The architectural work of Antonio Gaudí sparks much controversy – numerous critics ascribe his imaginative buildings to gothic and Moorish tradition, or credit his fluid lines to the Art Nouveau movement (Sweeney and Sert, 1960; de Solà-Morales, 1984; Descharnes and Piévost, 1971). Much of this may be true; his beginnings took imagery from these styles and the look of his elegant forms appear similar to the contemporary Art Nouveau architects, but Gaudí cannot be classified easily and this may only be a partial view of a complex man. Deeply religious, Gaudí felt a strong affinity for the Catalan literary and artistic movement called Renaixenca, manifest in architecture as a revival of medieval archaeology (Collins, 1960). He was concerned with the unity of principle between construction and ornamentation, and he viewed beauty in classical terms of proportion and harmony (Crippa, 2002; Martinell, 1975). Finding beauty in truth, he felt that ornament was to ‘contain nothing superfluous, but only the material conditions which make it useful; we must take into account both the material and the use which will be made of it…’ (Martinell, 1975, p. 125). Thus, his architecture often reflected structural moment diagrams or found form in geometry such as parabolic arches. On top of this he placed decoration and sculptural imagery imbued with symbolism.
Born Antonio Gaudí y Cornet in Reus, Catalonia, he descended from a family of coppersmiths. He moved to Barcelona in 1869, enrolling in architecture at the Escola Superior d’Arquitectura in 1870. Upon finishing school, Gaudí immediately obtained his first commission for streetlights in the Placa Reial and Pla del Palau. Finding a wealthy patron, he built a palace for Eusebi Güell (1885–1893) followed by an urban park (1900–1914). He designed other projects such as Casa Milá and Casa Batlló, but the passion of his life was the design and construction of the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia which he worked on until his death in 1926.
Gaudí explored structure and ornamentation using drawings and sketches, but the most unique and interesting method of his conception and testing of ideas was his use of models. His studio, in the basement of Sagrada Familia, was filled with plaster casts, ornament, and detail models. His search for beauty in the efficiency of structure led him to build polyfunicular models. Using strings or chains loaded with small weights, he replicated the stresses on arches.
This sketch is one of the few remaining sketches by Gaudí, since many of his drawings, models, and personal records were destroyed by revolutionaries in 1936. A study for the Colonia Güell church, this image for the nave has been sketched on an inverted photograph of a funicular model. He understood the structural principles, but employed the photograph as a way to view the interior space. Needing to assign volume to the arches (missing in the cable arcs), he could sketch over them with the assurance that the structure and form would coincide. Without calculating a perspective, he could quickly view the interior space. Thin dark lines of the chains are covered with soft pencil or chalk shading, defining the vaults of the ceiling and the dimension of the columns and arches. Openings are articulated by darkening potential windows.
Here Gaudí was combining the media of model, photography, and sketching to gain the information he required. Although still a vague suggestion of the future space, he was able to see more than the thin wires afforded him. Similar to architects who use tracing paper over drawings as a foundation, Gaudí was using what he knew to find out what he did not.
Smith, Kendra Schank. 2005. Architects' Drawing.