The city of Barcelona is choc-a-block with the wild, colourful and fantasy-filled forms that sprung from the furtive mind of Antoni Gaudi. He may have been a genius - and my all-time favourite architect - but let's not give the eclectic Catalan all the credit for Barcelona's polychromatic cityscape. It took the efforts of many other bold, visionary, risk-taking, and often unrecognized architects to complete the task.
One of those was Gaudi contemporary and fellow Catalan Joseph Puig i Cadafalch, who in 1889 began renovating a house for chocolate Baron Antoni Amatller. Casa Amatller, with its step-up roof covered in ceramic tiles looks like it just waltzed out of 17th-century Amsterdam:
To see it, you won't even have to stray from the Gaudi route - it's right next door to Gaudi's masterpiece, Casa Battlo:
Amattler didn't just reinvigorate Barcelona's chocolate industry. He also rewrote the rules of the the marketing industry. He hired some of the best-known artists of the day, notably Alphonse Mucha, to design posters marketing his chocolates:
Other Montaner lovers will argue for his Palau de la Musica Catalunya, built at the height of the Art Nouveau movement 1905-08. The concert hall features dayglow-coloured tiles on the outside:
But is much more sophisticated - though no less colourful - on the inside:
A few years later, in 1912, Architect Josep Graner i Prat came along and built an apartment building officially called Casa Fajol (Buckwheat House). For six stories it's about as plain-Jane as buildings come. Then, bursting out of the roof, is a multi-coloured butterfly as wide as the building itself:
Not surprisingly, the apartment is now commonly referred to as Casa Papallona, or Butterfly House.
Some of you will recall that a couple of posts ago (No.18), I showcased what I called "The Craziest Building in Valencia, Spain." It was certainly the most colourful. The architect, Juan Francisco Guardiola, had created only one other building in a similar mode, Casa Xina (China House) which he built in 1929 for his brother in Barcelona.
When Heather and I were in the Catalan capital a few weeks ago, we were determined to track down and photograph the building no matter how long it took to research its whereabouts and travel across the city. As it turned out, it took exactly six minutes - one to Google its location, and five to walk the one block from the apartment we had rented weeks before we even knew where the Casa was located. A very convenient coincidence. It was hard to miss:
Barcelona's love affair with colour didn't end with the death of these great architects - creative minds who stretched Art Nouveau to its extreme limits and then went a little bit further. Today, however, it's largely being carried out by international architects like Japanese Pritzker prize winner Toyo Ito. Ito's amorphous red hotel tower and it's adjacent office tower with a wavy red torso in the middle (known as the Toyo Ito Towers) make for an unusual coupling on the Barcelona skyline:
(Photo via Wurfel)But then, "unusual" is what Barcelona architecture has always been about.