Architects Guide to Glass, USGlass

Did God’s Architect Hate Glass?

"Gods Architect" Antoni Gaudi
“Gods Architect” Antoni Gaudi

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, or just “Gaudi,” as most of us know him, overwhelms the city of Barcelona like Lebron James overwhelms Cleveland. His power is unassailable and, though entirely distinct, his influence is so large that he and the city have become synonymous. His work helps define the city. I just wonder why he hated glass.
The story of Antoni Gaudi is quixotic in nature. An architect who became defined by the distinctive type of building he designed, Gaudi spent most of his life designing projects in Barcelona and throughout Spain, and his distinctive style is instantly recognizable. His signature project, and life’s work, became the completion of his beloved Catedral de la Sagrada Familia (literal translation: Cathedral of the Sacred Family; actual translation: Church of the Holy Family). This project is still in the process of being constructed, even 92 years after his death. It’s an amazing undertaking. (The TV news magazine 60 Minutes recently did a news report on the Cathedral and Gaudi’s tragic death. If you’d like to learn more you can watch it here.)

La Catefral de la Sagrada Familia is still under construction in Barcelona
Gaudi’s Catedral do la Sagrada Familia is still under construction in Barcelona

The Cathedral was Gaudi’s holy grail and, as he became older and more religious, its completion became his final quest. It is because of his ever-increasing religious devotion that he is known as “God’s Architect.”

Barcelona’s many Gaudi edifices give you a strong sense of his style. Nothing, except for buildings in Dr. Seuss’s Whoville, looks anything like them. No doubt, Seuss modeled them after Gaudi.

Despite a strong use of ceramics, tile mosaics and some stained glass, there is little glass in Gaudi’s work, and this has always troubled me. How could such an innovative, out-of-the-box architect ignore glass? Why did he opt for concrete and metal instead?  I was fortunate enough to take a tour of his work last month that finally gave me the answer.

La Pedrera by the Catalan
La Pedrera by the Catalan
A close up of La Pedrera's windows
A close up of La Pedrera’s windows

Gaudi, it seems, loved glass. But he loved certain design elements more. He believed that nature was not rigid nor linear, but rather a fluid continuum of curves and bent shapes. Check out this picture of La Pedrera, an apartment building in Barcelona to see how curves frame the windows.

The glass of Gaudi’s day could not do what he wanted or needed it to do. He wanted it to show movement, curvature and life, but the most fluid of processes—float manufacturing –had not yet been created when he was alive. And the radii of curvature now possible in bending were non-existent. When glass couldn’t do what he wanted, he worked around it.

It’s a good lesson for our industry. The desire for a certain look will lead an architect to different materials before it will lead him to change the design. Gaudi would have loved to design with glass today. I don’t have enough imagination to think of what he might have accomplished with the technology available today and how spectacular it would have been.

Have a good week,