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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Sagrada Família in Catalonia, Spain by Antoni Gaudi

March 13th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Wikipedia

The Basilica of the Sagrada Família was the inspiration of a Catalan bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José (Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph). After a visit to the Vatican in 1872, Bocabella returned from Italy with the intention of building a church inspired by that at Loreto. The crypt of the church, funded by donations, was begun 19 March 1882, on the festival of St. Joseph, to the design of the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, whose plan was for a Gothic revival church of a standard form. Antoni Gaudí began work on the project in 1883. On 18 March 1883 Villar retired from the project, and Gaudí assumed responsibility for its design, which he changed radically.

Gaudí, Sagrada Família : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi 

  • Architects: Antoni Gaudi
  • Project: Sagrada Família
  • Location: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain


On the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked: “My client is not in a hurry.” When Gaudí died in 1926, the basilica was between 15 and 25 percent complete. After Gaudí’s death, work continued under the direction of Domènec Sugrañes i Gras until interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Parts of the unfinished basilica and Gaudí’s models and workshop were destroyed during the war by Catalan anarchists. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the plans that were burned in a fire as well as on modern adaptations.

View of the Passion Façade (Western side) in September 2009 (cranes digitally removed) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Since 1940 the architects Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Gari and Francesc Cardoner have carried on the work. The illumination was designed by Carles Buigas. The current director and son of Lluís Bonet, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has been introducing computers into the design and construction process since the 1980s. Mark Burry of New Zealand serves as Executive Architect and Researcher. Sculptures by J. Busquets, Etsuro Sotoo and the controversial Josep Subirachs decorate the fantastical façades.

Gaudí’s model of the completed church : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

The central nave vaulting was completed in 2000 and the main tasks since then have been the construction of the transept vaults and apse. As of 2006, work concentrated on the crossing and supporting structure for the main tower of Jesus Christ as well as the southern enclosure of the central nave, which will become the Glory façade.

Newly constructed stonework at the Sagrada Família is clearly visible against the stained and weathered older sections. : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Construction status

One projection anticipates construction completion around 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death—while the project’s information leaflet estimates a completion date in 2028, accelerated by additional funding from visitors to Barcelona following the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Computer-aided design technology has been used to accelerate construction of the building, which had previously been expected to last for several hundred years, based on building techniques available in the early 20th century.[citation needed Current technology allows stone to be shaped off-site by a CNC milling machine, whereas in the 20th century, the stone was carved by hand.

Sagrada Familia’s roof under construction (2009) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

In 2008, some renowned Catalan architects advocated a halt to construction, to respect Gaudí’s original designs, which, although they were not exhaustive and were partially destroyed, have been partially reconstructed in recent years.
A 2010 exhibition, Gaudí Unseen, Completing La Sagrada Família at the German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt am Main, describes the current construction methods and future plans for the Sagrada Familia.

Nativity façade : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

AVE tunnel

On 26 March 2010, the Ministry of Public Works of Spain (Ministerio de Fomento) began constructing an AVE (high-speed train) tunnel beneath the center of Barcelona, saying the project poses no risk to the church. Project engineers and architects disagreed, saying there was no guarantee that the tunnel would not affect the stability of the building. The Board of the Sagrada Família (Patronat de la Sagrada Família) and the neighborhood association AVE pel Litoral (AVE by the Coast) had led a campaign against this route of the Tunnel Sants – La Sagrera for the AVE, without success.

The façade : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

In October 2010, the tunnel boring machine reached the church underground under the location of the building’s principal façade. A few months later, the tunneling machine reached its endpoint. No damage to the Sagrada Familia has been reported to date. The circulation of trains through the tunnel is planned to start in December 2012, when the installation of railway tracks, catenary and signalisation is completed. ADIF intends to embed the rails into an elastic material to dampen vibrations, according to the system Edilon.

Tortoise at the base of column : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi


The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed). The Nativity Façade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears the most direct Gaudí influence. The Passion façade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ being scourged at the pillar; and Christ on the Cross. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory façade, on which construction began in 2002, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will represent one’s ascension to God. It will also depict various scenes such as Hell, Purgatory, and will include elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.

Glory Façade under construction (October 2011) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Nativity Façade 

Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. Characteristic of Gaudí’s naturalistic style, the sculptures are ornately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature, each a symbol in their own manner. For instance, the three porticos are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable). In contrast to the figures of turtles and their symbolism, two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade, and are symbolic of change.

Detail of the roof in the nave. Gaudi designed the columns to mirror trees and branches. : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

The façade faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol for the birth of Christ. It is divided into three porticos, each of which represents a theological virtue (Hope, Faith and Charity). The Tree of Life rises above the door of Jesus in the portico of Charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot).

Originally, Gaudí intended for this façade to be polychromed, for each archivolt to be painted with a wide array of colours. He wanted every statue and figure to be painted. In this way the figures of humans would appear as much alive as the figures of plants and animals.

Alpha and Omega carving at Sagrada Família entrance : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Gaudí chose this façade to embody the structure and decoration of the whole church. He was well aware that he would not finish the church and that he would need to set an artistic and architectural example for others to follow. He also chose for this façade to be the first on which to begin construction and for it to be, in his opinion, the most attractive and accessible to the public. He believed that if he had begun construction with the Passion Façade, one that would be hard and bare (as if made of bones), before the Nativity Façade, people would have withdrawn at the sight of it.

Sagrada Família Nativity façade by night (March 2006) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Passion Façade

In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is austere, plain and simple, with ample bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble a skeleton if it were reduced to only bone. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudí for future architects and sculptors. The towers were completed in 1976, and in 1987 a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs, began work sculpting the various scenes and details of the façade. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker. He wanted to “break” arcs and “cut” columns, and to use the effect of chiaroscuro (dark angular shadows contrasted by harsh rigid light) to further show the severity and brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.

Passion façade (2004) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

Facing the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ, the Passion Façade is supported by six large and inclined columns, designed to resemble sequoia trunks. Above there is a pyramidal pediment, made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which culminate in a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle (James, Thomas, Philip, or Bartholomew) and, like the Nativity Façade, there are three porticos, each representing the theological virtues, though in a much different light.

Standing in the transept and looking northeast (2011) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

The scenes sculpted into the façade may be divided into three levels, which ascend in an ‘S’ form and reproduce the Calvary, orGolgotha, of Christ.[2] The lowest level depicts scenes from Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, including The Last Supper, Kiss of Judas, Ecce Homo, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus. The middle level portrays the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ, and includes The Three Marys, Saint Veronica, Saint Longinus, and a hollow-face illusion of Christ. In the third and final level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ can be seen. A bronze figure situated on a bridge creating a link between the towers of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thomas represents the Ascension of Jesus.

Zoom in the façade (2011) : Image Courtesy Antoni Gaudi

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