I had never seen design like this before. Casa Batlló in Barcelona is not just a house, it is evidence of the exhuberant vision of a genius.
The house, on Passeig de Gràcia, had been built in 1877. In 1904, architect Antoni Gaudí began its extraordinary transformation, a commission for the family of industrialist, Josep Batlló Casanovas, who wanted to show off his wealth with a spectacular home.
This is the description of the exterior on the Casa Batlló website:
“A stone thrown into a pool full of flowering water lilies would have the same effect as the facade of Casa Batlló, with its undulating surface covered in polychrome circles of glazed ceramic and broken fragments of glass in different colors, whose precise positioning by the workmen was directed personally by Gaudí standing in the street.”
The local name for the building is “Casa dels ossos,” or “House of Bones,” because of its skeletal, bone-like stonework, and the balconies that resemble skulls. The historical style of the house could loosely be labeled Modernist, or Art Nouveau, but Gaudí’s work is so unique that it defies any specific style.
Gaudí’s inspiration for Casa Batlló was the sea, so he designed a house with no straight lines…The walls are undulating curves, tiles are rounded, wood is carved into smooth, rounded shapes.
I moved through each room in awe, soaking up the spirit of each and every meticulously designed detail. The walls are painted like fish scales. Arches over windows and doors are embellished with watery stained glass circles.
The ceiling of the dining room is a giant whirlpool with a fanciful marine animal in its center, and in the sitting room ceiling is the stylistic impression of the effect of a drop of water.
Unusually shaped window and door handles were designed to perfectly fit the coutour of a hand. Gaudí fashioned them out of clay to get the precise shape he wanted before casting them in brass.
In the center of the house is a stairwell that extends up through all five floors. Crowned with a skylight, the walls are tiled in an ombre of blue tiles that are dark blue at the top and get progressively lighter toward the ground floor, eventually reaching white.
The effect achieves an even distribution of natural light from top to bottom. When looking up to the skylight from the bottom, the tiles look all one color.
Moving up the staircase, I noticed that cool air seemed to be wafting gently throughout the house. It is the ventilation system that Gaudí engineered into the structure which, for all intents and purposes, replicates central air conditioning.
To achieve the effect, he created devices for ventilation throughout the five floors of the house…carved openings in the doors that open and close, and a system built into the exterior that allows outside air to circulate continuously inside.
In the attic, the long hallway is framed with spectacular plaster “ribs” that are open in between, so that you feel air moving around you everywhere. A perfect marriage of form and function.
The roof looks like the back of a dragon, with slopes covered in mosaics of broken tile and glass that Gaudí had salvaged. Even the chimneys are decorated fancifully with colored fragments…turning typically mundane, utilitarian architecture into sculpture.
Casa Batlló has been described as “an architectural smile; an outburst of the compositional pleasure of someone in full command of an individual style that enabled him to escape any imitation, either in his own day or subsequently.”
It is one of many houses and public buildings in Barcelona where Gaudí’s unique artistry can be seen.
Gaudí never married…his work consumed his life. In 1926, he was hit by a tram car. Because of his disheveled appearance, he was not recognized, and no one came to his aid. He died from his injuries, and his body is buried in the crypt of his beloved La Sagrada Familia cathedral, to which he had devoted his last forty years.
“Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments.”
Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)