The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona?s unfinished cathedral, is its most notable landmark and the last work designed by its revered architectural son Antoni Gaudi who became so obsessed by his work that he reputedly lived in a shack on the building site dressed, according to my guide book, like a tramp. That Gaudi?s work can leave you a bit confused is typified by the fact that the same guide book mentions that he met his death outside the cathedral when he was hit by a tram on his way to pick up his suit from the dry cleaners! Ah, those Euro tramps – will it be the Hugo Boss or the Armani today?
So in 1926, when Gaudi and the number 37 from the station had their fateful collision, the cathedral was not so much incomplete as hardly started. Only one of the cathedral?s renowned towers was finished and the rest of the building was but a collection of sketches and models which were subsequently destroyed by anarchists. Despite the lack of hard information as to what Gaudi had planned the building has continued and 76 years later the place is still surrounded by cranes and scaffolding.
It?s difficult to say how far the enthusiastic Gaudi-fans have got but I can only conclude that Gaudi?s vision will not be clearly realised for much of the new work seems at odds with his opening gambit – the impressive eastern facade, the Portal of Passion, which seems like a quartet of huge dripping candles that have flowed over dusty wine bottles. It is Grimm-like and full of incongruities. For example in the midst of its gothic cragginess is a fanciful stone tree complete with doves – and if that isn?t incongruous enough on top of the tree is a red cross which, swear to God, must have been made from an old air raid siren or a couple of truck housings welded together. Eclectic doesn?t begin to describe what?s going on here.
The west wall consists of 4 more recently constructed copies of Gaudi?s original tower which, with age, will presumably match the originals. But in front of these new towers is a massive five arched portico, the Portal of Nativity, which is your first hint that things might have gotten out of hand. The lintels under the first, second, fourth and fifth arches are straight – and any Gaudi fan will tell you that he abhorred straight lines as he argued they didn?t exist in nature. Between the second and third towers is a massive window which is rendered in the style of his amazing apartment buildings. Evocative? Yes. Gaudiesque? Certainly. In keeping with the rest of the design? Pass. The still in construction apse is wondrous and again Gaudiesque but feels like a simplified, late twentieth century synthesis of his work. A whole cathedral in this style would be marvelous but sandwiched between the eight towers it seems incongruous and cheap. Perhaps Gaudi would have approved – his towers bear no resemblance to the north wall which had been started and then abandoned before he took over the job.
But who cares? Certainly not the tourists who eagerly fork out their euros to take a gawp inside. I bet the Bishop is praying he?ll get a similar turn out for one of his sermons when the red ribbon finally gets sliced. And while I wonder whether we should try and finish Schubert?s unfinished symphony and make movies of ideas that Kubrick never got around to shooting the one hour photo places and lap-top hard drives will be working overtime to churn out the snaps of Beryl and the kids smiling in front of the cathedral and perhaps that?s every architect?s dream true: the common man and his wife marveling at his genius.