fotos Marc Vila
13 Jun 2012 0 comments Lídia Penelo

Snooping around Colonia Güell, Gaudí’s testing grounds

The Sagrada Familia is the most visited and well-known work of Antoni Gaudí. But Gaudí’s genius did not end there. So, if you want to know more aspects of his peculiar and remarkable work you can visit Santa Coloma de Cervello, a town located in the county of Baix Llobregat, near Barcelona. There you will find  Colonia Güell, a former textile factory founded in 1890 by entrepreneur and patron Eusebi Güell.

Unlike other textile factories that existed in Catalonia, Colonia Güell was the only one with the imprint of Antoni Gaudí and his collaborators (Francesc Berenguer and Joan Rubio i Bellvé). Also, it was the first to use the steam engine as energy source and to segregate the actual factory from the living quarters of its workers. This meant the configuration a new urban phenomenon: the colonia. A neighborhood in which the factory becomes the epicenter, surrounded by private residences for its workers and other buildings such as schools, retail stores and a church. The goal? Provide the basic needs and ensure social equilibrium.

Walking through the building you will discover an impressive array of the best decorative elements of Modernism. The jewel of the crown of the colonia is the church, known as the crypt, which Gaudí designed personally.

A seminal work

In fact this crypt, included in the World Heritage list by UNESCO in 2005, was critical in Gaudí’s career, because he used it as a testing ground to develop new structural solutions. For instance, he experimented with inclined columns, avoided buttresses, dared to use unusual materials in churches of that time, such as deformed bricks or basalt stones, and proved that hyperbolic paraboloid vaults were possible.

But the project was too ambitious. It was supposed to have two naves, crowned by several side towers and a 40 meters high central dome. Instead, it ended up with just the ground floor and the porch. The funds dried up in 1914, when the Güell family told the architect that they would not continue supporting financially the construction. Despite the initial blow, the colonia continued growing until the 1973 crisis hit, when the factory closed its doors for good. It was a dramatic episode and of a high social impact. Then the property was sold: the factory to different businesses, the homes to their inhabitants and the surrounding land to public institutions. In 1990, Colonia Güell was declared a cultural asset and consequently, its most emblematic buildings, received protection.

Te best way to immerse yourself in its history is to take one of the many guided tours. You will get not only interesting architectural insights, but a detailed account of what was the social reality at that time. You can complement that with a visit to the exhibition at the visitor reception center. It will take you straight to the early twentieth century.

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