Art: Fantastic Catalan

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"There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature," Antonio Gaudi used to say. "Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners." In the application of his precept, Catalan Architect Gaudi built some of the most fantastic structures in the world. The walls of a Gaudi designed apartment house rise like eroded cliffs; his roofs are undulating, and wrought-iron leaves bristle from his eaves and sills.

Gaudi's largest and most fantastic work is Barcelona's awesome stone, iron and cement Church of the Holy Family. He spent 40 years on its honeycombed towers and the weird, grotto-like encrustations of its walls, but it was still unfinished when he died in 1926.

A House of Cords. This week Barcelona admirers are commemorating the centennial year of Gaudi's birth with a fund-raising campaign to complete his masterpiece, and with an exhibit of photographs, drawings and models reviewing his strange career.

As a conventional architect, young Gaudi was no great shakes. His masters at Barcelona's School of Architecture labeled him a mediocre student. His first professional work, a group of Barcelona workers' cottages, was dull and uninspired. But when a rich Barcelona cotton merchant offered him patronage, Gaudi began to give his lively imagination free rein.

His mineral-and-vegetable-like structures, commissioned by fantasy-loving Spanish aristocrats, began to sprout in & around Barcelona. Whether his assignment was a mansion, or apartment house, or a hunting lodge, Gaudi designed it with the same back-to-nature abandon, never passed up an opportunity to ripple or bulge a surface, scallop an edge or stick on a few mushrooming towers. To make sure that his weirdly shaped buildings were appropriately furnished, Gaudi would nev er accept a job unless he was allowed to design everything from beds and tables to lamps and plumbing fixtures.

In 1884, Gaudi was handed the job of designing Barcelona's new Church of the Holy Family. Fellow architects scoffed at his grandiose plan, which called for a dozen 328-ft. spires, five domes, five naves, three elaborate fagades and a forest of sculpture-topped pinnacles. Without the usual buttresses and props, they predicted, it would all come down "like a house of cards." Churchmen took exception to his bizarre decorations and unconventional style. But contributions for the project had already been collected from all over Spain, and Gaudi set to work.

A Bore Room. By the. time the crypt was completed and the main part of the building started, the original money was almost gone. Eventually, Gaudi gave up his life as a fashionable architect, sold his house and horses, put all his resources into the church-building fund. He moved into the construction yard adjoining the church, slept on a cot in a small bare room. In 1914, when all funds were exhausted, Gaudi went on a door-to-door pilgrimage through Catalonia, begged enough money to keep working. Said Gaudi philosophically: "The landlord of this building has eternity before him."

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