Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
At the turn of the 20th century, the Passeig de Gràcia is the place to settle in for the powerful and wealthy of Barcelona. In 1903, Josep Batlló a rich textile industrialist buys a 25-year old house on this most prestigious street of the new and modern El Eixample district. However, Batlló’s house looks a bit dull next to the neighbouring Casa Amatller designed by the Catalan architect Puig i Cadafalch. He commissions the famous Gaudí to rebuild it completely, but the highly creative genius convinces him to keep the structure – just adding two levels – and redesign the façade and floors.
Walking the Passeig de Gràcia, the Casa Batlló cannot be missed and its unique joyful façade resembles the impressionist waterlilies by Claude Monet. Some balconies looking like carnival masks scatter the colourful wall, when the roof mimics fish scales of a parrot fish summited by the spine of a multicolour dragon, maybe the dragon slayed by Saint George the patron of Catalonia dear to Gaudí, a proud nationalist.
Stopping at the façade only would be a mistake. Entering the house feels like penetrating a marine world with its shapes, colours and luminosity. Some internal windows remind the shell of a sea turtle. The beautiful ramp of the stairs leading to the noble floor looks like the spine of an enormous vertebrate. The mushroom fireplace brings to mind a jellyfish. The walls and ceiling of the reception room seems to eliminate every possible straight line ending in a giant whirlpool. The staircase serving the floors of the renters paved with blue ceramics makes us feel like we are evolving in an aquarium. Climbing up the stairs and against expectations, the light seems of a constant blue: Gaudí chose lighter blue tiles for the lower floors and darker blue tiles for the higher floors. He also sized the windows along this skylight so that the light is diffused evenly in all flats, with larger windows for the lower floors and smaller ones for the higher floors.
The top level was reserved for the domestics and walking the corridor feels like exploring the brick and plaster thorax cage of an imaginary animal, breathing to the rhythm of the natural ventilation. Once on the rooftop, this imaginary animal takes shape with its ceramic scales paving the gable and changing tones with time of day and season. Its appendices made of trencadís (broken pieces of ceramics) regroup the chimneys so that they are a spectacle and not an obstacle.
Gaudí overlooked everything at Casa Batlló. He identified so much with his art that he pushed it to the extreme also designing the furniture of the dining room. Just like with the rest of the building, its ergonomics is exceptional.
Started in 1904, it will take only two years for the architect to complete the project of Casa Batlló, successfully merging function and beauty, practicality and symbolism. This joyful and dynamic house showcases a very personal and unrepeated work at the maturity of the art of Gaudí. Beyond an Art Nouveau landmark, Gaudí also left a concept of innovation of forms and materials promoting sustainability by recycling building materials. Modernist? Sure! Also decisively modern!
- For tours and more details, check out the website of La Casa Batlló. Expect a highly immersive visit thanks to augmented reality.
- The Casa Battló is privately owned and receives no subsidies. Your entrance ticket funds it.
- For inspiration on where to go out in Barcelona, refer to A night out in Barcelona? Know where to go!
- To get the GPS-powered version of this article in GPSmyCity, click on this link!
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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