Park Güell: The Architecture of Nature
Detail of the dragon
Stairway leading to Sala Hipóstila
Park Güell seems as if it were taken from the pages of a fairytale: strange, eccentric, even dream-like, but undeniably beautiful. A stroll through the park will awaken even the sleepiest imaginations. The peculiar shapes and daring color combinations mixed in with the park’s vegetation create a unique world to which visitors feel irresistibly drawn.
Every corner of the park displays the architect’s passion for nature’s forms: Gaudí wanted human intervention in this forest to blend in with the landscape, to complement it, and he certainly achieved this. Snails, mushrooms, leaves, flowers, tree trunks and elephants appear constantly in the mosaics and in the architectural forms. Even the bell in the chimney of the concierge’s house is shaped like an inverted mushroom.
Antoni Gaudí represents, as few have, the artist ahead of his time, misunderstood by his contemporaries. It was largely thanks to Count Eusebi Güell, a powerful man, industrial visionary and lover of fine arts that Gaudí was able to give shape to his dynamic ideas. The original idea for Park Güell was conceived in 1900, when Eusebi Güell purchased land on the mountain of Carmel, at that time on the outskirts of Barcelona, to site a development in which he put Gaudí in charge. The idea was to copy the English “garden city” model (thus the word “park”), and build a few homes in idyllic surroundings with wealthy people in mind who wanted to get away from the crowded streets and insalubrious life of the city. Three kilometers of paths were built along with a plaza, stairways, the concierges’ pavilion and a model house to tempt potential residents. After 14 years, and seeing that the development was a commercial failure, it was abandoned and donated to the city council, which then converted it into a public park.
Forest of the Fairies
Upon entering the park we come to a curious little house that warns us that we are entering a fairytale world. Once the concierge’s house, it now welcomes visitors to the park. From there, a stairway leads into the park which displays one of the symbols of Park Güell and also of Barcelona: the famous polychrome dragon covered in small pieces of colored tiles. This technique, so characteristic of Gaudí’s work and found throughout the park, is known as trencadis (similar to mosaic), which uses irregular pieces of tile and other materials as cover. The pieces used are from objects broken for this purpose or from the remains of other constructions. Much of the trencadís work in the park was done by Josep Maria Jujol, fortunate assistant and disciple to Gaudí.
At the top of the stairway we come to the sala Hipòstila, a forest of stone made up of 86 columns. It was originally designed as a marketplace in which shop owners could purchase the supplies they needed without going into the city. Just above this we find the gran plaza, a kind of wide balcony that offers gorgeous views of the city. A bench covered in trencadís snakes its way along the plaza’s perimeter. Not only the bench snakes and winds, all of the paths through the park do, as well as the arcades and viaducts. As we all know, straight lines were never very frequent in the work of this Catalonian artist.
Faced with a lack buyers, Gaudí purchased the model house in 1906 and lived there until 1926, when he moved into the lower levels of his greatest work: la Sagrada Familia. Today, the house is the Gaudí Museum, in which pieces of furniture created by the artist as well as scale models, drawings and other interesting personal objects are on display.
When Gaudí obtained the degree of architect, Elies Rogent, director of Barelona’s Architectural School quipped: “We’ve either given this degree to a lunatic or a genius. Only time will tell.” Time has certainly shown us the second persona, and the Park Güell, declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, is testament to this.