December 14, 2014

One of the most enjoyable vacations my family and I have ever had was to Barcelona, Spain, a fabulous European city.   I cashed in four “frequent flyer” tickets for that eleven day event suspecting we would have a wonderful time.  I was, or we were, not disappointed.   One marvel of the “new world” is Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.  A magnificent structure and one every engineer should visit.  Let’s take a look.


Sagrada Familia (Holy Family or in Catalon: La Sagrada Familia) is located in the Eixample region of Barcelona.  The Sagrada Familia was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi with construction beginning in 1883.  Construction was unfortunately stopped due to Gaudi’s sudden death in 1926 and resumed only in 1946, after many disputes regarding the design and financing.

Gaudí is one of the most outstanding figures of Catalan culture and international architecture. He was born in Baix Camp (Reus, Riudoms) on June 25, 1852, but attended school, studied, worked and lived with his family in Barcelona and Barcelona became home to most of his great works. Gaudí was part of the Catalan Modernista movement, eventually transcending it with his nature-based organic style. Gaudí died on June 10, 1926, in Barcelona, Spain. He was first and foremost an architect, but also designed furniture and worked in town planning and landscaping, among other disciplines. In all those fields he developed a highly expressive language of his own, thus creating a great body of work.  When work began on the Sagrada Familia in 1882, the architects, bricklayers and the laborers worked in a very traditional way.  Gaudí took over the direction of that work and knew the tasks were extremely complex and difficult.   With that being the case, he tried to take advantage of all the modern techniques available.  Among other resources, he had railway tracks laid with small wagons to transport the materials, brought in cranes to lift the weights, and located workshops on the site to make work easier for the craftsmen.

Gaudi’s picture is given below:


Today, the building of the church follows Gaudí’s original idea and, just as he himself did, the best techniques are applied to make the building work safer, more comfortable and faster. It is some time now since the old wagons gave way to powerful cranes, the old manual tools have been replaced by precise electric machines and the materials have been improved to ensure excellent quality in the building process and the final result.

Antoni Gaudí was run over and killed by a Barcelona tram in June 1926 but by that time, he had been working on his design for the Expiatory Church of the Holy Family for 43 years — almost his entire architectural career. For the last twelve of those years he worked on the Sagrada Familia to the exclusion of everything else, and during his last eighteen months he slept on site in his workshop in the church’s crypt, where he soon would be buried. But work was always slow because money was extremely tight, and at the time of his death only a fragment of the church had actually been built: the apse and melting candle wax Nativity façade with its peculiar spires that was to become the instantly recognizable symbol of the city of Barcelona. After Gaudí’s death, his inner circle of collaborators continued to work slowly in the violent days leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, when a rampaging anarchist mob broke into the workshop and destroyed Gaudí’s remaining drawings and plaster models.

Today the present Church Technical Office and the management are charged with studying the complexity of Gaudí’s original project, performing the calculations and the building plans and directing the works as a whole.  According to the latest estimates, the Sagrada Familia will be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Over the next few years 10 more spires, the tallest reaching 170 meters in height, will dramatically transform the building’s roofline.

The Church is one of the major attractions of Barcelona, along with other buildings and places designed by Gaudi.  Looking at the graphics below, you can certainly see why the Sagrada Familia draws millions each year to Barcelona.  The designs are striking. But for now at least the interior is finished. Pope Benedict XVI opened the Sagrada Familia in November 2010, and it is reported that more than 3 million tourists visited in 2011. As a university student in Barcelona in the early 1960s, Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca was one of the leaders of a campaign opposing any further construction work on Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Familia church. Now, 50 years later, after taking a guided tour of the Sagrada Familia in the company of one of the building’s project architects, he has publicly recanted. Writing in the March 2011 edition of the Italian architecture magazine Domus, Tusquets Blanca says some of the building’s finishes and decorative features — hand railings, stained glass and flooring — are not on a par with the whole, and the sculptures on the Passion façade done by Josep Maria Subirachs are “pitiful.” But overall he says his tour of the Sagrada Familia left him “dumbfounded.”

We will explore very briefly the exterior and interior of the structure hoping to indicate the complexities of design and fabrication.  You will certainly understand why completion is still years to come.



As you can see, the church is meant to be a “neighborhood” church and is definitely accessible to the public at large.  Even though the digital above does not give the overall footprint justice, it does show how the structure is positioned relative to surrounding buildings and streets.

The JPEG below will show the main structure when completed. You must agree, it is a daunting undertaking.


Given below is the structure as competed to date.

Sagrada Familia Front View.

The following slides will indicate to you the craftsmanship of the exterior and how truly detailed the designs are.  I have no idea as to how long each took, but it must have been painstaking.




The interior of the church is no less marvelous than the exterior and just as intricate.  The vaulted ceilings are truly individual works of art as can be seen from the following slides.







I hope at some point in your life you visit Barcelona and Sagrada Familia.  You will come away knowing, as I did, Gaudi was an absolute genius.  Time to him was not a factor in design or construction.  He knew he would not live to see the church’s completion but felt sure those craftsmen following him would bring about its completion.

As always, I welcome you comments.

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