The most fascinating and unknown modernist houses in Barcelona
For a while, Barcelona has been in fashion and there are many tourists who visit the city especially to learn about the jewels of Modernism (Art Noveau): La Sagrada Familia, Parque Güell, the hospital complex of Sant Pau, Casa Batlló or La Pedrera. Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Maria Jujol created the great architectural jewels of Catalonia.
Barcelona has got 200 modernist buildings (houses, industry buildings and shops). The Eixample is the area that accumulates the great masterpieces of Catalan Modernisme. It was dubbed “The Golden Square”. Personally, I feel privileged to be able to live in this neighbourhood that occupies the modern centre of the town, an authentic open-air museum dedicated to Modernism. I go everywhere walking, many times looking at the sky and discovering new details of the beautiful modernist buildings that appear in every corner of this area.
This is one of the things that I explain to my guests who come to Barcelona to visit the city. They are happy to visit the private house of a local, someone unknown who opens their doors. Some of them have never been in a building dating back to 1930 and, even, they are shocked to climb in the old elevator.
In our conversations with them, they feel a big passion for everything that relates to Modernist art, but especially with the genius Antoni Gaudí. I usually comment about the number of modernist jewels that are hidden in the city! Because of that, I create a tour that combined a walk through those hidden gems and a 1930 vermouth at home, the most classic appetizer of Barcelona with some creative tapas.
1. Casa Fuster
In one of the most exclusive areas of Barcelona, there is this five-star luxury hotel, Casa Fuster, the latest work by the brilliant modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner in town (1911).
Mariano Fuster, a gentleman from the high society of Mallorca, came to Barcelona where met Consuelo Fabra, daughter of the Marquis of Alella. Mr Fuster wanted to give his wife a house and decided to buy this building. A neo-Gothic building, with three white marble facades, Coraline marble columns and French-style attics, something unusual at that time in Barcelona.
In 1962, an electric company buys the house to build a modern skyscraper instead. Barcelona’s society opposed, articles were written in different newspapers and protests were held. Not only did the company not demolish the house, but it promised to restore the building.
In 2000 the house was sold and became the current 5-star Hotel Casa Fuster. This building was released worldwide because it was one of the stages of the film “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”. Its director, Woody Allen, was so impressed with this hotel that, whenever he returns to Barcelona, he stays here and even plays with his jazz band in the Café Vienés.
2. Casa Comalat
This is one of the most original and unknown jewels of Modernism in Barcelona, even for its citizens…
A rich lender, Joan Comalat, commissioned Mr Salvador Valeri to build this house that follows the usual structure of the Passeig de Gràcia buildings of the time (1906-1911).
As a tribute to Gaudí, this house contains many elements of its architecture. The architect was clearly influenced by Gaudinian organic forms and the building stands out for its overflowing decoration, almost dreamlike in interiors and its two facades: the rear facade of the building, which overlooks Còrsega St., has wavy galleries with rolling shutters. It was the first house in Barcelona that had this type of blinds.
Mr Lluís Bru, considered the most important craftsman of Catalan Modernism, made a spectacular mosaic work, which highlights a curious harlequin hat in enamelled green ceramics that crowns the building. But you have to move to a place on Diagonal Av. to appreciate it in all its magnitude.
The main facade, which overlooks the Diagonal, is made of stone and is much soberer. A large floral ornament carved in stone tops the upper part of the facade.
3. Palau Baró de Quadras
The Baró de Quadras Palace was one of the first houses built on Diagonal Av. (1904).
Baron Manuel de Quadras commissioned Mr Josep Puig i Cadafalch to rehabilitate his old castle on the outskirts of Barcelona. Satisfied with the result, he asked for the renovation of this building, the future Palau Baró de Quadras. Puig i Cadafalch transformed a farm into a large neo-Gothic palace.
One of its curiosities, as in the Comalat House, is its double facade: On the Diagonal side, it has its main facade, only twelve meters wide! The building recalls the Gothic palaces of the old town.
In the corner of the gallery, the figure of San Jordi is fighting with the dragon. The legend of Sant Jordi is an iconographic motif used very often in Catalan Modernism. Highlights the fantastic wrought iron defensive door with a glass of the blacksmith artist, Mr Manuel Ballarín.
On the side of Rosselló St., a simple rehabilitation of the existing building was carried out, following the typology of the residential buildings of the Eixample, with a clear influence of Viennese architecture style.
4. Casa Terradas, “Les Punxes”
This is one of the most emblematic buildings in Barcelona. Casa Terradas is known by all locals as “La Casa de les Punxes” and was built in 1905.
Bartomeu Terradas, a well-known textile entrepreneur, had 4 children: Àngela, Rosa, Josefa and Bartomeu. The boy Bartomeu was the heir, but Mr Terradas took care that his daughters had a dowry to live with. At his death, Àngela Brutau, his widow, commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a friend of the family, a house for each of his daughters.
This spectacular building breaks all established standards. It is an urban palace reminiscent of the old medieval castles of northern Europe, with influences from different architectural movements and numerous technical innovations.
The architect created three independent buildings with a continuous facade to look like a single house. Its facade presided by six pointed towers that end in needles gives the name to the house today, “les punxes” (the needles). The three properties were divided into a ground floor built of stone with arches and columns decorated with floral and abstract motifs, while red brick combined with stone areas such as bleachers or balconies is used on the upper floors. Each floor represents a season of the year and each facade speaks of its owners with surprising details.
Josep Puig i Cadafalch collaborated with outstanding artisans who worked with elements such as corrugated iron, stone or glass, and put into practice the most innovative techniques.
At the death of the three sisters, his brother Bartomeu was the heir, but he also died without offspring and the house will no longer belong to the family.
5. Palau Macaya
In 1898, the industrialist Romà Macaya saw the opportunity to buy land in an area not yet urbanized. In fact, the largest racecourse in Europe was being planned in this area, but the works of the Sagrada Familia and future plans for it prevented it. Then, it was possible to start building this palace and, consequently, the Passeig de Sant Joan.
Mr Macaya commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch to build this magnificent mansion. The chronicles say that, due to the great expansion of Barcelona, the architects of that time had a lot of work. A detail sculpted on the facade by the sculptor Eusebi Arnau attests to this: A figure of a cyclist watches over the entrance, which is none other than Puig i Cadalfach, who was also building the Amatller House in Passeig de Gràcia, and he moved from side to side with his bicycle to visit the works.
The society of the moment said that, in reality, the cyclist was a French lady, lover of the owner’s house who a year before had been widowed and lived on horseback between Paris and Barcelona. On one of his trips, he had brought his lover, who shared the house with the rest of the family.
At this stage of maturity, Josep Puig i Cadafalch shows the baroque style in ornamentation. The façade is distinguished by the white colour, probably referring to the colour of the material that Macaya traded, the cotton imported from Latin America, sculpted in ochre by Joan Paradís. Despite the austerity of the façade, the balcony extends from the main floor; the windows and a small lectern of the gallery have large ornamentation of carved stone. Manuel Ballarín did the work of forging the bars.
The carriages could cross the entrance to a porticoes patio in which the large stone staircase with floral motifs that led to the rooms of each family. Graffito and tiles stand out on the white walls.
In the main area, the family lived and the service did it in the mezzanine. For that reason, on the floor, there is a small spiral staircase that communicated with the basement, destined for the kitchen, coal and the work area. Being a residential building for three branches of the family, the service used the same stairs as the family to reach the upper floors.
6. Casa Planells
One day in 2004, actor John Malkovich was walking back from visiting the Sagrada Familia when, suddenly, he was delighted with a building of wavy lines and endless windows. It was a love at first sight that left him speechless. People, surprised, asked him if he was well, “Yes, I suppose,” the famous actor replied without giving credit to what he observed. He was able to find out the name of the house: Casa Planells. The artist returned to the United States and swore to himself that he would visit the house again and study the work of this brilliant modernist architect. This is how Malkovich became an expert in Jujol’s work and even dedicated a play that premiered in Tarragona. Malkovich said of him: “Jujol always creates new things through the poorest materials. It is not a job for the rich, for the rich. That is why it is more intense, moves and agitates as if you were about to Fall into the water”.
Certainly, John Malkovich is right in stating that this house is one of the unique buildings on Diagonal Avenue, designed in 1924 by the Catalan architect Josep Maria Jujol. In addition, this building represents the latest construction of modernism.
Man of great imagination and with a great talent for detail, Jujol played an essential role in finishing most of Gaudí’s works. Magnificent examples of this collaboration are the facades of the houses of Batlló and Milà, as well as numerous elements of the Park Güell. This house belongs to its last era and reflects its fidelity to Gaudí’s work; in fact, it makes a particular interpretation of La Pedrera, in which he denies any concession for the ornament.
The characteristics of its products are of great sensitivity towards the forms of nature, the interest in artisanal detail and the creative reuse of old materials or waste, which leads to its maximum expression with a technique that has been called “trencadís” (tiles joined with mortar; characteristic in Catalan modernist architecture).
Jujol was a genius. In a small building, with the problem of the corner, the architect solves the power of the curved line on the facade, with wooden shutters, the testimony of his free inspiration, in addition to the artistic currents of the moment. He managed to build 120 m² flats on a plot of 83 m². With simple materials, such as plaster and iron, he got beautiful finishes.
The block contains a ground-level entrance and a mezzanine that projects over the entrance hall like a protruding tongue; with stairs that, sometimes, barely reach 70 cm, increasing the surface; with windows that have a larger surface area (55 m2) than the room where it is located, achieving incredibly bright spaces. However, Mr Jujol could not finish this project. He reached the second floor until the money was finished. Mr Planells stopped paying for the materials and the architect himself finally ignored the project.
Mr Planells sold the property and the new owner, although he respected the construction, made two more floors with rectilinear finishes that clash with the fluidity of the modernist lines of the rest of the building.
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