Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Amazing Architecture of Antoni Gaudi in National Geographic

illustration by Fernando G. Baptista & Shizuka Aoki

Having been long enthralled by the soaring, intricate beauty of gothic architecture, I’ve never much cared for the idiosyncratic art nouveau architecture of Antoni Gaudi. It always seemed a bit creepy to me. (It came to mind the first time I watched “Alien” and saw the huge skeletons on the abandoned planet.) Well, the December issue of National Geographic has totally revised my attitude about the work of Gaudi. It contains an article, “Gaudi’s Masterpiece,” by Jeremy Berlin, about the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. This amazing cathedral is a massive structure with a footprint of 48,438 sq. ft., projected to be completed in 2026, 144 years after work started.

The NG article quotes professor of mechanical engineering Adrian Bejan on Gaudi:  “He understood that nature is constructed by laws of mathematics. What is strongest is inherently lightest and most efficient, and therefore most beautiful.” Bejan calls Gaudi a "tightrope walker on the line bridging art and science.”

Gaudi conceived the columns of the nave to represent a forest of trees that would bear the weight of the building from inside, without the need for the gothic flying buttresses. One of the main interior columns in Gaudi’s cathedral supports a load of 1,138 pounds per square inch, compared to a combined 697 psi for one 3-column flying buttress on Cologne Cathedral. The details of how this is achieved are beautifully presented in double sided 4-panel foldout in the magazine, illustrated by Fernando G. Baptista and Shizuka Aoki, from which I scanned the above picture. This fold-out is a work of art in itself.

Gaudi was, of course, a visionary. To quote the NG article again, Gaudi’s “belief in the beautiful efficiency of natural engineering clearly anticipated the modern science of biomimetics.” Take a look at this illustration below from the foldout, showing how Gaudi adapted the structure of a leaf to create the roof of a school. Is this not amazing and beautiful? The building looks like forest structure out of a fairy-tale, so perfect for a place to shelter and nurture children. (I googled an image of the actual building. It really is small, one-story, but its situation in a highly urban setting belies the woodland look.)
illustration by Fernando G. Baptista & Shizuka Aoki

I’ll be looking at Gaudi with new eyes from now on.

All pictures in this post © 2010 National Geographic Society.

1 comment:

  1. You even get me to be interested in architecture and to read about things I know nothing about!!
    I enlarged the picture of the cathedral The drawing itself is so fantastic. All those different towers. What a visionary.
    And the school roof....why had nobody thought of that before?

    I come here and think of how ignorant I am of so many things but I love reading your posts dear Diane.
    Much love


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