Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Antonio Gaudí

(Japan, 1984)

It seems a little ironic to me that this celebration of the works of Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926) should have been shot and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. The traditional Japanese esthetic is minimalist to the extreme. Absolutely nothing could be further away from that than the buildings of the great Catalan architect.

After some deliberation I have decided that Frank Lloyd Wright is my second favorite architect. I love his buildings … but would hate to live in one. The Ellis-Brown house in Los Angeles is wonderful from the outside, but cold and uninviting inside, as you can see in the movie Bladerunner. Wright designed what I think is the most beautiful residence ever built, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. It is built over a natural waterfall! Which, let’s face it, is a big problem. Edgar Kaufmann, the man it was built for, called it a “seven-bucket building” because it leaked so much. Another name for it was Rising Mildew. I’d call it Fallingapartwater. It cost $155,000 to build ($2,600,000 adjusted for inflation) and $11,500,000 to renovate and shore up in 2001. Wright was notorious for his lack of attention to details, like how those lovely cantilevered balconies would be supported. The answer was, not nearly enough.

I would love to live in a Gaudí building. I’d happily move to Barcelona and learn Spanish. His interiors for habitation are warm and inviting, and show all the things I love about his style. (Well, his later style. When young and learning his trade he built things not all that different from anyone else.) He used a wet noodle for a straight-edge. He reveled in baroque detail, adorning any available surface with ornate art, in particular mosaics made from broken, discarded tiles. He loved arches, and stained glass. There is really no good way to describe his stuff, so I implore you to google him and take a look. If you’ve never seen these buildings you will be gobsmacked.

His masterpiece, and my choice for the greatest building of all time, is the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family). Work began on this astonishing edifice in 1882, and it is projected that it might be finished in 2030. Work was speeded up greatly by using computer-aided carving machines instead of the on-site hand stone-working of the past. The facades that are finished so far have such incredible detail that I’m sure I could spend a week staring at it and still find new details on the eighth day. Parts of it look like someone built a cathedral out of wax, and then partially melted it.

This documentary shows where things stood in 1984, when there was still no roof and work hadn’t even started on the central dome and tower, which will be even taller than the spires already built. You can go to Google Maps and get a 3D image of what it looks like today. About the last third of the film is devoted to the cathedral. The first part shows his other otherworldly, happily bizarre works around Barcelona. My only complaint is that I wish Teshigahara had at least put unobtrusive labels at the bottom of the frame, so we would know what we are looking at. This film has only about a minute of talking, and the rest is accompanied with just music. But I really can’t complain too much, as this is the most comprehensive compilation of the master’s work I have ever seen. You should see it, too.