At the Sagrada Família we often get questions about how closely we follow Gaudí’s original project and, each time we do, we explain that there is a wide variety of material and enough of it to be able to continue with the project for the Temple and finish it just as he wanted. Furthermore, he made his ideas on the continuity of the works very clear: as Isidre Puig Boada explains in El pensament de Gaudí, the architect was well aware that he wouldn’t finish the Temple. But he didn’t lament this; in fact, he believed it would make it “grander” and that the work would benefit from the variety it would bring: “the new artists that will be part of it, and even the new architectural styles, will make it richer and more expressive as a monument. Great temples have never been the work of just one architect,” he said.
But how have, and will, Gaudí’s successors managed to continue on with his project? Basically, there are five sources that have allowed us to continue with the works as faithfully as possible. It is combining all five, however, that truly makes it possible.
1.- DRAWINGS AND PLANS
Gaudí’s local fame can be clearly seen in the photos of his funeral, in 1926, and the masses who attended. Contrary to the picture several satirical magazines tried to portray of Gaudí as a misunderstood, rejected loner, the history of the event shows how people were still queuing up to see his death bed at the old Santa Creu hospital, on Carrer de l’Hospital in Barcelona’s old town, when the funeral procession reached the Sagrada Família, having already travelled the five kilometres that separate the two. Everyone took to the streets to say their last goodbyes.
This recognition, however, went much further. Gaudí, while still alive, received renowned architects from around the world, including Le Corbussier. Because, from the time the model of the Nativity façade was first displayed at an exhibition in Paris in 1910, the new architecture he proposed for the Temple had a very important impact and word spread around the world.
So, although Gaudí’s drawings and plans were burnt when his workshop caught fire in the 1930s, the ten years that had passed since he died were enough for admirers from all over the world to come discover the project. They took photos and filled books with pictures and explanations of these drawings and plans, which were later lost in the fire.
This means that today we have both photos and publications of a wide variety of drawings and plans for Gaudí’s original project, from general overviews with little detail and sketches for vectorial calculations, to highly detailed floor plans, cross sections and some elevation drawing.
2.- PLASTER MODELS
Gaudí worked in three dimensions, modelling the projects in plaster more than drawing two-dimensional plans. The fire in his workshop destroyed the paper plans but the plaster models, which are inert, didn’t burn. So, despite the destructive intention of that action, the fragments of the models were cleaned up and saved between two walls until the end of the 1930s. Then, with infinite patience, the task of identifying and classifying each fragment began, until the whole project was recovered. It was the workers who had created the models, instructed by the master, who began this task. Afterwards, two generations after them continued the work. The people who have worked on the reconstruction have always had very close ties with the original project.
3.- TEXTS DESCRIBING THE PROJECT
The Associació Espiritual de Devots de Sant Josep (Spiritual Association of the Devotees of Saint Joseph), the developers of the Temple, published a magazine periodically that once in a while shared news of the project, formal and symbolic descriptions, photographs of models, plans and, even, studies on the structural mechanics of the Temple or other exemplary cathedrals. When they had collected enough information on the project, they published what was called the Àlbums del temple (Temple albums) summing it all up. These albums, published mostly while Gaudí was still alive, are one of the most reliable descriptive sources on the project. The last of these albums was published just three years after Gaudí died, in 1929. Another was published in 1936 commemorating the tenth anniversary of the master’s death, although it was more a look back. In 1929, Isidre Puig Boada, then an admirer of Gaudí, published his first book describing the project, combining everything he could find out with what he knew through direct contact with Gaudí. Other people close to Gaudí, like César Martinell, Josep F. Ràfols and Joan Bergós, also published books that help us find information on the details.
4.- THE FINISHED SECTIONS
The logical order in which to build a huge work like ours would have been to raise it up horizontally, but that isn’t what Gaudí did. In fact, if he had followed this order, it wouldn’t have been more than a few metres tall and there wouldn’t have been anything at all out of the ordinary to attract attention. Gaudí, however, had a ‘commercial’ strategy: to build one whole façade, the Nativity façade. He knew this one would be happy and flowery and would please and get people involved in the project. He knew this would help raise the funds needed.
With this system, in addition to managing to leave us the detailed pinnacles that top the building, with Venetian trencadís mosaics, he left us a sample of how to resolve each element on every level, from the vaults in the attic to the roofs and the gargoyles. The Nativity façade, then, serves as a huge catalogue of building solutions that can be used as an example for the rest of the work.
However, in addition to this façade, Gaudí also left us other finished works that have often served as an example, guide or source of inspiration. The most noteworthy, undoubtedly, is the unfinished chapel at Colònia Güell, which Gaudí himself said was his test bench for the Temple project. Other works that have served as an example are the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca, Park Güell, and the houses he built for Milà, Batlló, Calvet.
5.- THE USE OF GEOMETRY IN THE PROJECT
Gaudí realised early on that he was working on a grand construction and that he wouldn’t be able to finish it. So, the leap he took to using geometry allowed him to continue making new shapes that still seemed to fit in with the organic expressiveness of the curved lines and twisting shapes but were no longer the result of freehand modelling in clay or plaster, but based on geometric generation of shapes and surfaces. Gaudí found that using paraboloids and hyperboloids is the best way to achieve the architecture that he is known for formally, but which is also based on rules that can be passed down to his collaborators and disciples to put into practice. Likewise, the use of basic mathematical proportions based on thirds and quarters, or series of simple figures (triangle – square – pentagon) round out the manual of tools available to blueprint designers in order to successfully tackle any challenge posed while staying true to the original work.
Plus, progress has now given us technological tools to scan the original models and make the photos into 3D, or to precisely scan every millimetre of the Nativity façade. With these tools, for example, it isn’t complicated to extrapolate a full hyperboloid from just a small fragment.
In short, we can conclude that every part of the building that has been built since Gaudí died is the result of an in-depth study of all the materials available to ensure the continuity and coherence of the project as a whole, a task that aims only to highlight the Temple and its true architect: Antoni Gaudí.