Antonio Gaudi is the most famous of the Catalan modernist architects whose work in the late 1800s and early 1900s gave Barcelona a reputation for innovation and a trove of works that, whatever their original use, are significant tourist sites today.
Gaudi’s most famous project is the still-to-be-completed Sagrada Familia basilica, with its soaring, heavily ornamented steeples and towers, but many of his buildings were designed for the wealthy merchants of Barcelona, who made their money in textile, shipping and other industries. The city, which had been bound inside the old city walls was spreading out into new areas, and the rich moved from the crowded medieval city into new residences in the new neighborhoods.
Entrance lobby and detail of tiled wall
Casa BatllÓ, whose facade is seen in the two top pictures above, is perhaps the most famous of these houses designed by Gaudi, although he was not involved in the original construction of the house. It was built in 1877, but a new owner, Josep BatllÓ, bought it in 1900. Unsatisfied with its “old-fashioned” appearance and arrangement of rooms, he planned to tear it down and hire Gaudi to start from scratch. To avoid delays and possible problems with building permits, Gaudi rebuilt the original house instead, expanding the central well and adding more floors.
The house is located just north of Placa Catalunya, which marks the edge of the old city, on Passeig de Gracia, today a major shopping street and then a place where wealthy families could draw attention to themselves and their success. The BatllÓ family lived there until the 1950s, when it was sold to an insurance company for offices. Much of the house remained untouched. The current owners bought it in 1993, and began a full-scale restoration, and it is open to visitors. It’s also rented out for social functions.
We visited it on our first trip to Barcelona, with both eager anticipation and mixed feelings; unlike many people, we’re not out-and-out admirers of Gaudi’s extravagance, and find Sagrada Familia “over the top.” As I’ve written elsewhere on TG, I’m more of a fan of his contemporary, Luis Domenech i Montaner
But Casa BatllÓ turned out to be our favorite of his work. It’s full of exuberant tile work, beautifully curved and polished woodwork, a stunning tiled well that runs through the house from top to bottom, providing both light and air circulation, and last, but not least, a roof filled with playful structures hiding chimneys, ventilating shafts and more.
There are innovations to be found as well: Some of the chimney structures are designed to prevent backdrafts, the loft at the top provides laundry spaces for the house with innovative no-power drying, and more.
Everywhere, the shapes and colors of the house are a visitor’s delight. Would I want to live there? I don’t think so. But is it a great visit and a good introduction to its builder and its time? Certainly.
Service stairway on upper floors; decorative structure on roof.
More information on Casa BatllÓ and on visiting HERE. More pictures in slideshow below!