Sagrada Familia will bear little resemblance to Gaudí’s original plan, say critics
Graham Keeley in Barcelona (The Guardian)
When Antoni Gaudí met his untimely death under the wheels of a Barcelona tram in 1926, he took with him to the grave his vision for his masterpiece, the church of the Sagrada Familia.
Since then, a succession of architects have laboured to finish the fantastical spired building which has come to symbolise the city.
Hampered by Gaudí’s eccentric way of working, not to mention the efforts of anarchists to destroy the original plans for the turreted temple, their job has been far from easy.
But as the work finally draws somewhere close to an end – 125 years after it began – an influential group of Spanish artists, architects and art gallery directors are increasingly concerned the result will bear little resemblance to Gaudí’s original vision of an architectural homage to God.
Instead, they claim, millions of tourists visiting the surrealist structure will find it impossible to tell “where Gaudí’s work begins and ends”.
Manuel Borja-Villel, the influential director of Madrid’s Reina Sofia art museum, leads a group of 100 members of the Barcelona artistic and architectural establishment who have signed a manifesto protesting at what they see as a betrayal of Gaudí’s spirit.
They claim those entrusted with finishing off the temple are putting their own stamp on the works instead of faithfully following the ideas of the architect who devoted much of his later life to the Sagrada Familia.
In a statement, 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 Gaudí to leave their personal mark on the building to the detriment of the original work.”
Borja-Villel told the Guardian yesterday: “What they are constructing has little to do with the spirit of Gaudí. It has more to do with building a tourist attraction and for propaganda purposes.”
Other signatories include Rosa Malet, president of the Miró Foundation, a museum dedicated to the work of Joan Miró and Miquel Tàpies, head of the Tàpies Foundation which is dedicated to his father Antoni’s art. Another is Salvador Tarragó, a leading architect and the president of the conservation group SOS Monuments.
Efforts to complete the multi-coloured Sagrada Familia have met with protests before. In 1990, demonstrators objected after sculptures by contemporary artist Josep Maria Subirachs were incorporated into the building.
Each year, millions of tourists come to see the bizarre structure perhaps wondering when it will be finished. Latest estimates put the end of the works at 20 years from now.
But then each time it seems the work is nearly completed , new delays emerge and the cranes remain in place.
The team of architects working to realise Gaudí’s dream have not been helped by his refusal to stick to a blueprint. Instead, he visited construction sites and would make changes as he went along.
Matters were not helped when the original plans were badly damaged by anarchists during the Spanish civil war.
Architects have had to work with reconstructed versions of Gaudí’s original plans and modern adaptations.
The first sight to greet tourists as they approach the cathedral’s spires is the original Nacimiento facade which Gaudí lived to see completed. But since his death, the Sagrada Familia has tripled in size. A 170-metre dome which is to crown the building and an elevated flight of stairs are the biggest challenges ahead for those finishing Gaudí’s masterpiece.
As if that were not enough, the planned route of a high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona lies within metres of its foundations, raising fears it could be damaged.
Conservationists say the Sagrada Familia is not the only unfinished Gaudí work at risk. The church of Colònia Güell, in a suburb outside Barcelona, was never finished because money ran out. Between 1999 and 2002, architects made controversial changes to the crypt. Cracks and damp have appeared inside the church despite the restoration work.
Manuel Medarde, engineer and treasurer of the crypt, said: “This was a disaster because even though they had all the necessary documents regarding the material and techniques to be used, they were not followed.”
Others say that Gaudí’s architectural genius was only recognised long after his death – and that efforts to preserve his work came when it was already too late. Daniel Giralt-Miracle, a critic and art historian who helped organise a year-long celebration of Gaudí’s work in 2002, said: “The problem with restoring Gaudí’s work is that by the time there was an awareness of his legacy he had been dead for 50 years.”
Renaissance artists often encouraged their proteges to complete their paintings as a symbol of the creative bond between them. Titian put the final touches on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, while Giulio Romano finished Raphael’s Transfiguration. Classical composers have also sought to supply the missing finales to their predecessors’ unfinished works – with varying degrees of success. After the death of Giacomo Puccini, Franco Alfano provided an ending for Turandot which is still performed today, but Geoffrey McNeely was ridiculed for his 1991 attempt to complete the Mozart Requiem. When he died in 1870, Charles Dickens had written just half of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and left no indication of the murderer’s identity. Since then, at least three authors have tried to finish the book.