Gaudí in Red Alert

“Gaudí en alerta roja” is the title of an online petition currently the source of much debate in Barcelona. Its proponents, a group of luminaries from the local architectural and cultural establishment, argue that Gaudí’s work should be left “alone” and that he should be allowed to “rest in peace.” In fact, it demands that post-humous additions to projects Gaudí never completed in his lifetime be “undone” so as to revert to the state in which “the author” left them.

There are many problems with this rather romantic manifesto. For one thing, building is not a “pure” or “fine” art, and as Robert Hughes writes in Barcelona, Gaudí fancied himself as more of a builder than an architect: “That he was the son of artisans mattered immensely to Gaudí. He thought of himself as a man of his hands, not a theoretician.” (p. 470). The Sagrada Familia was, from day one, a collaborative endeavor between Gaudí and his crew of masons and artisans. He never produced a full set of drawings of the temple (he apparently hated drawing), and is known to have made many design decisions in situ with his co-workers, operating at a level of humility that is unfathomable in the context of today’s prima donna architecture. Leaving Gaudí’s work incomplete in the name of a supposed purity of authorship is probably something he himself would never have wished.

Another argument made in the manifesto is that the construction of such an ambitious temple is anachronous with a modern secular nation, and that the exorbitant amount of money it is costing would be better spent on more urgent needs. As far as I know, the construction of the Sagrada Familia is being financed mostly, if not entirely, by the hordes of tourists lining up to buy tickets to visit the site. Just who is to deny tourists and religious fanatics their right to pay tribute to a temple? Aren’t freedom of religion and freedom of mobility the very hallmarks of a modern, secular society?

Of course, it is entirely correct to insist that the Sagrada Familia should not invade public space, that it should have a building permit like any other construction site, and that there is no rational reason for a projected tunnel to have to make a wide detour around its foundations. Yes, the Casa Batlló’s neighbor should never have had four stories added on top of it, and perhaps the Colonia Güell crypt could have been renovated more sensitively (though it doesn’t look that bad either). But to insist that Gaudí’s work be returned to some sort of pure state and be henceforth left untouched?! That smacks of religious fundamentalism to me.

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