“Everything”, wrote Antoni Gaudí, “comes from the great book of nature”. This might sound like a bit of a vague statement, but when you visit one of Gaudi’s buildings you understand exactly what he meant.
La Pedrera is a truly incredible example of this approach. In fact, if you stand in the middle of its gently lit courtyard, it’s easy to forget that you’re inside a man-made structure. The rolling curves, seaweed-like wrought iron and gnarled roof of this Barcelona landmark have been astounding passers-by on Passeig de Gràcia for over a century. Yet to properly appreciate the importance of this building, completed in 1912, you need to head indoors.
There’s a forest-like quality to the interior of La Pedrera – the designer’s careful use of light mirrors that of a canopy of leaves. The structure may appear abstract at first, but its architect missed out nothing from his grand scheme – try as you might, you won’t find a single straight line in this massive structure.
Who would live in a house like this?
La Pedrera was Gaudí’s last major project before he started on his magnum opus, the Sagrada Família. Despite the similarities in execution, the origins of these two projects couldn’t be more different. Whereas the basilica focused purely on the glorification of God and the wonders of creation, La Pedrera was about showing off the wealth of one man.
The funny thing is, La Pedrera isn’t the building’s original title. It was named Casa Milà after the notoriously decadent funder of the project Pere Milà (‘La Pedrera’ was a disparaging nickname given by locals, meaning ‘the stone quarry’). Before he commissioned Gaudí to build this abode, Milà’s reputation as a rich dandy was already the talk of Barcelona high society. His marriage to the widow Rosario Segimón, with her new South American-made money, only increased his notoriety. In many ways La Pedrera is a monument to this couple’s desire to stun Barcelona’s chattering classes into silence.
For Gaudí, ever the devout Catholic, the project was to have a strong religious subtext. His original plan was to turn the house into a grand religious allegory culminating in a set of 4-metre-high bronze statues of the Virgin Mary, St Michael and St Gabriel. But the Milàs were worried that their new abode might fall victim to rising anti-religious sentiment in working-class Barcelona. As a result, they managed to get this part of the design shelved.
The building today
La Pedrera was lovingly restored by Catalan savings bank Catalunya Caixa from its neglected state in the 1980s. Guided tours now give you access to several nooks and crannies on the ground floor of the building, a restored apartment, and the building’s attic and roof terrace. The apartment gives you a detailed glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Barcelonans who first occupied the building. In the surreal vaulted attic, you can find an exhibition interpreting the life and work of its architect.
Remarkably there are still a few fortunate residents in some of La Pedrera’s apartments, and tours of the building are designed to maintain the privacy of these inhabitants. Catalunya Caixa has recently started a pre-bookable ‘Secret Pedrera’ tour which starts in the evening (21:30-22:30). This highly atmospheric chance to explore La Pedrera offers an intimate look into the lives of early inhabitants of the building.
Wandering around the roof terrace of La Pedrera, with its cream mosaic-covered chimneys and elegant arches, it’s hard not to feel like a big kid. The crowning feature of Gaudí’s most innovative residential building, it has great views of the rest of the city that he did so much to alter (Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Família can be seen not far off).
Above all, it’s the space that makes your appreciate the radically innovative importance of Gaudí, the architect at the start of the 20th century who transformed the shape of Barcelona forever.