“Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s challenge”, on Art: an edifying basilica

Ceiling of the nave of the Sagrada Familia, by Gaudí, in Barcelona.


Barcelona’s iconic basilica, the Sagrada Familia enters its 140me year of construction. Although it is not a record (York Minster, on the other side of the Channel, was built in more than two and a half centuries), the duration impresses as much as the building. Vertical accumulation of columns bristling with cranes, the exterior does not suggest the interior luminosity of its successive naves, nor the forest of fine buttress columns, nor the modernity of its floral decorations.

For more than a century, generations of visitors, historians and professionals have wondered about the structure of the building, at the limit of the rules of architecture and good taste, erected by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) –which he took up, in 1883 , the project imagined, then abandoned, by Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (1828-1901). While the exhibition that the Musée d’Orsay dedicates to the Catalan artist was open from April 12 in Paris until July 17, the director Marc Jampolsky offers some answers.

Because, this time, it is promised: the Sagrada Familia is almost finished. Not as expected in 2026, the year of the centenary of the death of its creator -the confinements have caused delays-, but “soon”. On December 8, 2021, the 9me tower (of 18), which is said to belong to the Virgin Mary, was inaugurated. The installation of his twelve-pointed crystal star opens the film, designed in the image of the symbolic structure: centered on what Gaudí called “the Temple”, but allowing various developments, before returning to his central theme.

vision commune

Social development, on the common vision that united the industrialist Eusebi Güell (1846-1918) and Antoni Gaudí, and on the achievements that inspired them, such as the Colonia Güell, the Güell Palace and the Güell Park. Mineral exploitation, during a pleasant walk through the inspiring landscape of the monastery and the natural park of Montserrat, 50 km from Barcelona. Also the historical evolution, with, in particular, the evocation of the revolt of 1909, which will definitively convince the pious Gaudí that the Sagrada Familia must be the expiatory temple of a violent Barcelona.

To flesh out his reflections, fictional scenes subtitled in the original version were shot on the modeled set of Gaudí’s studio, burned down in 1936. Here it is reconstructed in 3D using a photogrammetry process, which was too detailed during a sequence. However, the most exciting remains purely architectural with the explanation, from models and albums published after 1917, of the principle of the columns inclined in the axis of force, arranged in catenary arches and made self-supporting.

The force is with Gaudí. But not always with his successors, who will stumble fifteen years with this ship that culminates in 65 meters without external buttresses, before formalizing the three principles used: the hyperboloid revolution of a sheet, the hyperbolic paraboloid and the triangular plan. Architecture students will appreciate it. Passionate successors, such as the Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, employed since 1978 to make three doors and six statues, and who converted to Catholicism to immerse himself in his theme and complete, in 2015, the Nativity façade.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers Antoni Gaudí, behind the eccentricities, a counterrevolutionary architect

Next step, the six central towers in the completion phase, and whose financing is largely provided by the income of the 5 million annual visitors (before the Covid-19 crisis). And, insidiously, the desire for a weekend in the Catalan capital arrives…

Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s challenge, by Marc Jampolsky (Friday, 2022, 90 min.).

Leave a Comment