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Best laid plans...

Controversy builds as footage emerges of 'completed' Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

by Sian 07 October 2013

Jordi Fauli, the latest in a long line of architects working on the iconic Sagrada Familia, has made the bold prediction that Gaudí’s unfinished ‘cathedral of the poor’ will be completed by 2026. A video simulation issued by the Sagrada Familia Foundation shows how awe-inspiring Barcelona’s most famous landmark would finally look if he and his team succeed.

The push for completion in 2026 is aimed to coincide with the centennial of the death of Antoni Gaudí. So impoverished was the architect and sculptor that when he was run over by a tram aged 74, people thought he was a tramp. It was the end of a chapter, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

Since his death, nine architects have overseen the Sagrada Familia's construction, each facing significant hurdles. Gaudí left behind detailed plans for the basilica at the time, but they were destroyed ten years after his death when a group of anarchists stormed the building during the Spanish Civil War. They burned his workshop to the ground and destroyed most of his original plaster models.

However, fragments of the models were recovered and some published plans and photographs of the original models were conserved. There were also notes made by those Gaudí had discussed his plans with. It is these remaining materials that inform the work that has gone on since his ignominious death. Modern computerised visualisation technology has also played a crucial role in Fauli’s interpretations.

Controversy haunted Gaudí in life and now almost 100 years later, it haunts him still in death. The fully named Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, divided Barcelona at its conception and during its construction, which spanned an epic period of change in the Iberian Peninsula.

Now critics argue that the latest design and the modern materials involved won’t be true to Gaudí’s spectacular vision almost 100 years ago. There are even claims that a planned high-speed rail link between Spain and France will cause vibrational damage to the basilica. Others say that ‘God’ just isn’t that important anymore in our increasingly secular society - the money could be better spent given Spain’s parlous economic situation.

This last argument is perhaps a little unfair as all works are privately funded by the Sagrada Familia Foundation. Its website states that: “The disinterested donations and the revenue from the donative admission charge paid by two and a half million visitors every year are what make the building possible.”

Gaudí is oft-quoted as saying: “My client is in no rush”. His ‘client’ being God, and the timescale envisaged for completion of his last and most epic project being in the region of 200 years. Did he perhaps know that some deviation from his original plans was almost inevitable over that period? After all, many famous religious edifices have taken far longer, notably Cologne Cathedral which took from 1248 until 1880 to complete.

But, conjecture aside, who is qualified to interpret Gaudí’s vision… should it not have been left unfinished? Would he have approved of the interpretation we see in the video clip? We don’t have the definitive answers - perhaps there simply aren’t any. But one thing is for sure. The completed building will ensure the Gaudí controversy lives on…

WAN’s Michael Hammond commented: “This is a very interesting issue, and one which is not as unique as it might appear. Even now in London, we have a debate raging as to whether Paxton’s Crystal Palace should be reconstructed. Of course it will not be faithful replica, but a contemporary take on the original. Critics argue that it will denigrate Paxton’s work and could end as a thinly-disguised retail park… Others counter that executed well, it could be global attraction and become another London Icon…but as all architects know too well to their cost, the devil is always in the detail…”

What are your views? We’d be fascinated to hear them…

Gail Taylor

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