Nature has inspired humans in many ways over many centuries. But maybe none match the completeness of Antoni Gaudi’s relationship with nature – Nature as structural, functional, spiritual and decorative inspiration.
Gaudi was a spiritual man with a great regard for nature as God’s creation. The newly consecrated Sagrada Familia “strives to compress all of earth and heaven into its structure – endless saints, biblical scenes, symbols, inscriptions, seashells, reptiles, birds, flowers and fruit.” according to Rowan Moore in The Observer. Gaudi even included in his highly decorative (if sometimes pretty ugly) sculptural details, images of the animals that were going to be displaced by the building of the huge church on the then outskirts of Barcelona. Neither are sculptural details reproducing nature limited to the Sagrada Familia – they are widespread across Gaudi’s full range of art-in-building.
But Gaudi also realized that nature provided more than mere decoration. His structural forms mimicked those found in nature thereby providing him with both aesthetic and functional benefits. Columns mirroring trees or human bones, roof structures mirroring leaves, arches mirroring rib cages; all these allowed him to reduce the materials needed to build strong structures because of the supreme functionality gained from reproducing nature’s designs.
Then, of course, there is the sheer joyfulness, color and blousy expressionism of natural forms that find themselves expressed in Gaudi’s celebration of life.
Gaudi transformed Barcelona into an art gallery with a celebration of life on every street. His designs were sometimes outrageous – as outrageous as the plants and creatures inhabiting a tropical rain forest. In using natural forms, Gaudi was, maybe, one of the first in what would be today called a sustainable architect. He understood that nature gives us not only beauty, recreation and joie de vivre but also wisdom – something that maybe we could all learn a bit more of today.