Dali, Gaudi and H & M

It is no secret that a visit to Barcelona includes a healthy dose of architecture: modern and art nouveau, striking and decaying, understated and lavish. What may come of a bit of a surprise, however, is that you need little prior knowledge or research to discover these marvels.

Barcelona is an architects dream and a photographers playground. Walking down the Rambla, every building has a story; chinese umbrellas in cement adorn the external walls of a pharmacy directly across from the stark modernism of the Music Hall. Liberty mosaics line the halls in which sit industrial structures of the vegetable market; while a castle suddenly appears out of a back alley as you turn the corner.

It sounds like a mish mash or unplanned nightmare, and it may just be…but it works. Like everything about this city, differences blend together into a Paella of tastes, sights, sounds and styles making one unique flavour that lasts.

Another Dali
We are all familiar with Salvador Dali’s films and extensive surrealist pantings of pergatory with melting clocks littering the desert. His eye for the absurd and detail has captured our image of his work and life as a man.

In Barcelona, however, you find a different Dali…the artist, the favored son. In his museum, walls are littered with sketches, loose surreal paintings and the odd sculpture. Crucifixes in bronze and models for later works provide insight into what I can only believe was a more at home Dali. Having always considered Dali more of a showman than artist, this museum made me reevaluate my judgement of this contemporary ‘master’.

Gaudi in Spires
Not convinced that Famiglia Salgrado was absolutely required, I set out to see the famous ‘skull’ Casa batista. A few minutes outside this masterpiece changed my mind entirely, for which I am grateful. The Casa is without question one of the most striking buildings of this period I have seen and few photos truly do it justice. It’s not the skulls and bones that I noticed but how the form while one the one hand quite comic still has a refined charm and utility.

The famous skull balconies allow for the building to provide rooms with light and air while not monotonizing the facade. The bone windows are bay windows done with style, oval like our vision. Having sampled just a taste, the Salgrado spires became a must see.

First, on arrival, don’t enter. Walk the circumference or you will never understand this cathedral still under development a century after it began…and at least half a century from its completion. Each side is unique in style, form, character and even period. The classic melting spires are just one facet, with a strict modern surrealism used for the entrance and a classic gothic on another side. Take it all in, high and low, skulls and Christs…don’t miss a single angle…and then, enter for a new level of awe.

Cathedrals were meant to inspire man towards God. They were a form of entertainment in an epoch without tv or books. They were a gathering place for security and a haven of peace. The Salgrado does this and more.

It elevates man to God and keeps him humble. Rise to the top of the spires and another world of marvels awaits. Stand in the unfinished church, straining your neck with head uplifted to take in the columns, ceiling and window treatements. Nothing is decoration and everything is inspiring. Carvings and tiles, glass and stone, smooth and sharp, the inside is dizzying while at the same time reassuring.

Take it all in and don’t let one corner go unnoticed.

H & M is an achitecture model?
When finally the sights have been seen and you are ready to allow yourself the odd gift or treat, like many locals, you may find yourself in one of the hundreds of shops along the main courseways…H & M for example. Don’t put the camera down!

Barcelona’s stores are no less architectural delights than are its monuments. Only one of many examples, H & M has converted a turnn of the century building with Victorian columns and oak ceilings into a modern showcase of steel and glass curves, disappearing horizons and Gaudi-esque height. A steel helix draws the eye up the center of the courtyard while white flying stairs cross to take patrons to the mezzanine. Confusing at its worst, it does not offend…in fact from the right angle, it actually is more pleasing than most of the clothing on the shelves.

more to come…