ROME, MARCH 31, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Queen Sofia of Spain recently inaugurated the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926), whose cause of beatification was opened in 1994.
Gaudi was an inimitable master of architecture conceived as prayer.
Maria Antonietta Crippa, professor of architecture history at Milan´s Polytechnic, and an expert on Gaudi´s work, explained the breadth of the work of “God´s architect,” as Gaudi is known, over Vatican Radio (www.radiovaticano.org/).
Q: Who was Gaudi?
Crippa: He is the last architect in cultural continuity with the Western tradition of Christian mold. Without highlighting “ruptures” of an ideological nature, he makes use of the expressions inherited from this tradition, taking structural aspects from the Gothic, interior decorative richness from the Baroque, and creating from these and other styles a new language.
Hence, it is a traditional cultural mold, but profoundly innovated by Gaudi´s original contribution.
Q: Gaudi´s constructions are more works of art than simple buildings. Emotion prevails essentially over technique. This is a lesson followed, for example, by the “organic” architecture of Alvar Aalto, but rejected, however, by the great rationalists like Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Crippa: It is true that for him architecture is still a synthesis of the arts; therefore, he does not exalt its practical functionality, isolating it from other components, but inserts it in a context in which only one of the factors comes into play.
For Gaudi, the relation between architecture and decoration remains very central. Rationalism, the strongest current at the beginning of the century, breaks this profound unity, which was also a traditional value. Some, and I adhere to this line, believe that Gaudi´s importance lies, among other things, precisely in his capacity to maintain architectural composition profoundly connected to the symbolic dimension of man — therefore, to an imaginative capacity that refers to the fundamental values of life.
Q: For the devout Gaudi, to build is also and above all a means to express his own inner self and his own faith. It is not accidental that his point of reference is the Gothic, hence, the raising of architecture to the highest. Of what importance is the relation with the sacred in his work?
Crippa: The sacred was a very developed human dimension in Gaudi, thanks to his formation, to his Christian conscience. He was a man of immense interiority. His was a world peopled by Christian characters … which resulted in inventions, in innovation. In regard to the sacred, the fundamental element in Gaudi is his utter anchorage in the Christian tradition at a time when this anchorage was not obvious to artists. Let us not forget that the time in which he lived was one of “vanguards.”
Q: In a word, what is the most significant contribution this great Catalan has made to contemporary culture?
Crippa: In our times, I would say he is the man who has made contemporary architecture the most popular, the closest to the public. I have seen many people on different occasions marvel at Gaudi´s great ideas, at the moving intuitions expressed in his architecture.
He is much appreciated in Oriental countries, in Asia, Japan, and also in Latin America. His contribution is that of having maintained the dimension of communication in architecture. Because architecture “speaks,” it must speak.