National Geographic : 2010 Dec
PHOTO: PERE VIVAS, TRIANGLE POSTALS THE BIG IDEA Gaudí grew up fascinated by geometry and the natural wonders of the Catalonian countryside. After architecture school, he eventually forged his own style---a synthesis of neo-Gothic, art nouveau, and Eastern elements. For Gaudí, form and function were inseparable; one found aesthetic beauty only after seeking structural efficiency, which rules the natural world. "Nothing is art if it does not come from nature," he concluded. In 1883 Gaudí inherited the Sagrada Família from another architect, who had laid a traditional neo-Gothic base. Gaudí envisioned a soaring visual narrative of Christ's life, but knew that the massive project could not be completed in his lifetime. For more than 12 years prior to his death in 1926---he spent his last year living at the site---he rendered his plans as geometric three- dimensional models rather than as conventional drawings. Though many were destroyed by vandals during the Spanish Civil War, those models have been vital to Gaudí's successors. "They contain the entire building's structural DNA," explains Mark Burry, an Australia-based architect who has worked on the Sagrada Família for 31 years, using drawings and computer technology to help translate Gaudí's designs for today's craftsmen. "You can extract the architec- tural whole even from fragments. The models are how Gaudí met the architect's challenge: taking a complex, holistic idea and explicating it so others can understand and continue it after your death." Adrian Bejan says the facades of the Sagrada Família are based on the golden ratio, the geometric proportion "behind all aesthetically pleasing art." The distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, whose "constructal law" states that design in nature is a universal phenomenon of physics, calls Gaudí a forebear and a "tightrope walker on the line bridging art and science. He understood that nature is constructed by laws of mathematics. What is strongest is inherently lightest and most efficient, and therefore most beautiful." At the heart of Gaudí's vision is a timeless truth. As Bassegoda writes: "Looking toward the future, the lesson of Gaudí is not to copy his solutions but rather to look at nature for inspiration ... nature does not go out of fashion. " ---Jeremy Berlin 2010 The Sagrada Família soars above the plazas and avenidas of Barcelona, defining the downtown skyline.