An impossible legacy?

Sharon McHugh
Friday 15 Aug 2008

Controversy brews over Gaudi masterpiece

The Sagrada Familia is the undisputed masterpiece and life’s work of Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. It is also a building mired in controversy and just plain bad luck. As the building edges ever closer toward completion, which is estimated to be in the next two decades, another protest has broken out questioning whether anyone is capable of doing justice to the late Master’s vision.

The latest protest comes from a group of influential architects and artists from Spain’s art and heritage world, led by Manuel Borja-Villel, the Director of Madrid’s Reina Sofia art museum. They claim the new work will bear little resemblance to Gaudi’s vision and that the tourists who visit the structure will find it impossible to tell, “Where Gaudi’s work begins and ends”. But measuring up to Gaudi is not easy. A succession of architects has worked on the structure since the architect’s untimely death in 1926. But hampered by Gaudi’s eccentric way of working (the architect did not work from the plans created), a lack of plans which were damaged in the Spanish Civil War, not to mention the idiosyncratic nature of the architecture itself, the job has not been easy.

In a statement that appears on the web site of FAD, the Spanish arts and design institute, the group said: “What stands out is the mediocrity of a group of technicians and developers who are well-meaning but full of an anachronistic paternalism in the best of cases and are once more using Gaudi to leave their personal mark on the building to the detriment of the original work.” Borja-Villel told the Guardian last week: “What they are constructing has little to do with the spirit of Gaudi. It has more to do with building a tourist attraction and for propaganda purposes." Organisers of the protest promise to keep the pressure on the team of designers to remain true to Gaudi’s ideas.

"What is going on is a monumental scandal, but we are not yet asking for a freeze on construction work; we're simply drawing attention to the case”, curator and Gaudi expert Maria De Mar Amus said to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "We will discuss the issue again in October and examine future initiatives to crank up the pressure”.

The questionable construction work isn’t the only threat to the structure. Concerns for the foundations of the cathedral have been raised after approval was given earlier this year for a high-speed link between Madrid and Barcelona that passes within meters of the structure.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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