Thursday, June 24, 2010

Park Güell, Barcelona

Barcelona is a fantastic city for many reasons, but its greatest attraction is probably the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Scattered throughout the city, Gaudí’s 19th and early 20th century works blow away the concepts of traditional architecture in favour of wildly imaginative works of art.

Gaudí’s style is most often described as completely original and unique, and he was indeed a pioneer in his period. But at the same time, his ideas didn’t come from a vacuum. His two greatest influences were the architectural trends of his time (mainly gothic and traditional Catalan), and the natural world (which is especially interesting from a gardener’s perspective). Park Güell, covering a hilltop in the city of Barcelona, is a great example of the combination of influences which gave rise to his work.

The park is quite large, and unfortunately somewhat lacking on the living natural side – the planting is boring and not particularly maintained in most parts. However, one can still appreciate the overall layout design, and of course the many compelling architectural elements scattered throughout. All the forms are organic, from the curved paths, benches, walls and fences, to the randomly angled columns supporting arches and canopies meant to evoke the forest.

In many cases, living natural elements are also combined with architectural ones, as in the wall and fountain at the entrace to the garden.

A key influence which I was happy to recognize having just come from Turkey was the tile mosaic. Brought to Spain via the Islamic Moors, mosaic was a great inspiration to Gaudí, who took the traditional decoration and turned it upside down by employing multiple, complex patterns in loose designs and using it to cover unexpected shapes. The many mosaics at Park Güell are works of art, and one the main reasons visitors flock here.

Even today, Gaudí’s works continue to be highly original and inspirational. I always find it interesting to try to understand how new art is created. Often, the elements already exist, as in the case of the Gaudí’s mosaics. But it takes someone with special vision to truly understand these existing elements, and then combine them and shape them into something new and revolutionary.