Antoni Gaudí, one of the most famous figures of Catalan culture and world architecture, spent over 40 years designing the Temple of the Sagrada Familia.
Gaudí’s conception of the Sagrada Familia was based on the traditions of Gothic and Byzantine cathedrals. His intention was to express Christian belief through the architecture and the beauty of the building and communicate the message of the Evangelists. He achieved a symbiosis between form and Christian iconography, with a personal architecture generated via new but thoroughly logical structures, forms and geometries inspired by nature, with light and colour also playing a central role.
The meaning of the Sagrada Familia is communicated through the form and expressivity of its architecture and the iconography of its sculpture.
The various architectural elements are imbued with hierarchically organised Christian symbolism. Thus, each of its 18 towers has a special significance. In the middle is the tower dedicated to Jesus Christ and around it are four towers representing the Gospels; the books containing the life and teachings of Jesus. The tower above the apse, crowned by a star, represents his mother the Virgin Mary, while the remaining 12 towers represent the 12 Apostles, witnesses to his words and deeds.
From wherever they are seen, once finished, these 18 towers will be an extraordinary sight and provide a sense of elevation to the central tower dedicated to Jesus Christ.
Structure and form
The starting point for the Sagrada Familia was Gothic architecture, which Gaudí modified and improved on to offer a new architecture which, due to its originality, makes this temple unique.
The Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia is a church with a central nave flanked by four aisles, and transepts with a central nave flanked by two aisles, forming a Latin cross. The top of the cross is closed by the semi-circular apse. The basilica also has three monumental facades, each one representing one of the three crucial events of Christ’s existence: his birth (C/Marina); his Passion, Death and Resurrection (C/Sardenya); and his present and future Glory (C/Mallorca).
In full knowledge of the fact that he would not see the temple finished, Gaudí decided to plan the construction of the Sagrada Familia in modules, starting with the apse and the Nativity facade, knowing that if he managed to leave one of them finished, it would be more difficult to abandon construction.
In his desire to overcome the defects he saw in Gothic structural systems, Gaudí aimed to create a new architecture with balanced and self-supporting structures. In his workshop, he experimented with and refined the constructional solutions he used on the building by using models. This way of working has been used by all his successors and is still practiced in the temple’s technical office. The Sagrada Familia was and still is a constructional challenge: it is one of the largest testing grounds for construction methods in the world.
Gaudí took his inspiration from two sources; the Christian message and nature. One was derived directly from the Holy Scriptures, tradition and liturgy. The other came from the observation of the natural world, providing him with a conceptual and methodological framework. Gaudí did not copy nature but analysed the function of its elements to formulate structural and formal designs which he then applied to architecture.
Light and colour
Gaudí made great use of light to endow his architecture with expressivity and grandeur. Sunlight glistens on the pinnacles of the towers and windows. The rising sun lights up the portals of the Nativity facade, accentuating the joy for life that is the birth of Jesus.
On the Passion facade the interplay of light and shadow produced by the setting sun heightens the sparse and severe character of the facade’s theme, while the Glory facade receives the mid-day sun that will shine on the 16 lanterns of the monumental porch and light up the main entrance to the basilica.