Lots of cities have parks. Probably most cities. There are parks and then there is Park Güell in Barcelona. It is more wonderland than park and this is where the famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’ let his imagination run wild with fantastical shapes and designs that utilized his use of nature and organic structures to build a unique garden.
The park started out as an urban housing development in the early 1900s to provide wealthy residents an opportunity to get away from the smoke and factories of downtown Barcelona. Originally known as “bare hill” it was just a rocky knob overlooking the city far away from downtown.
In the design of the park Gaudí’ utilized his intense study of geometry to build structures that defied the classical norms. His vision was to integrate the park into the natural topography of the landscape while incorporating imaginative and ornamental designs that were neither rigid or traditional.
Now this might sound as if Kongo knows something about architecture. He doesn’t. But he did pay attention to Carmen, his wonderful guide through this part of the city, and he fell in love with Gaudí’s work during four days in Barcelona. And Kongo does have an architect friend in San Diego, John, who once told him about Barcelona and Gaudí’. So there.
Instead of excavating the hillside, Gaudí’ created terraces like the one in the image above that provided paths and access to other parts of the park without changing the natural shape of the landscape. Everywhere Gaudí’ integrated architecture with nature and if you study the terrace you will see that the columns are like palm trees holding up bird nests.
This pathway beneath a roadway uses perfectly angled columns to transfer the load and hold up the retaining wall above. Instead of just building a massive stone buttress, this beautiful colonnade delights visitors and offers respite from the summer sun.
Despite Gaudí’s involvement with the project the commercial success of the housing development never took off. Only two homes were built in the development then but I’m guessing that the great grandchildren of the former Barcelona bourgeois wished their ancestors had been more adventurous with their real estate investments.
Here is another section of the colonnade that supports the roadway. Gaudí’s use of parabolic structures is similar to the attic in Casa Milà that Kongo visited earlier in the day and put up a previous blog post.
Part of the park design included a large gathering place for the community. Gaudí envisioned that this would be a focal point for the residents. It’s a broad area with a wonderful serpentine bench that allows visitors to relax and take in the fantastic views of the city. But to Kongo the most impressive point of this main terrace was what is underneath it.
The terrace is supported by dozens of columns and a mosaic ceiling that creates a wonderful interaction between light and shade. In the mosaic ceiling Gaudí created emblems that were all different and unique such as the one below, which uses broken crockery (Gaudí may have been an early recycler) to create art.
Gaudí designed the two houses at the entrance to the park to be a pavilion and groundskeeper cottage. They contain classic Gaudí shapes, including the four-sided cross so that viewers can can see the points of the cross from any angle. The architect was extremely religious.
The focal point of the park is the mosaic encrusted stairway to the terrace that leads immediately from the main entrance to the garden.
Like all of his projects, Gaudí was obsessive about the even the smallest details of the design. An example of this was the decorative iron work on a fence that bounds the street side of the park.
This palm leaf design is seen in other Gaudí projects in Barcelona.
Park Güell is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admission is free but access to the monumental area of the park and the two buildings designed by the architect at the entrance require the purchase of a ticket.
Travel safe. Have fun.