"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Monday, 14 December 2015

36. An Art Nouveau Gem in Valencia

Those of you who regularly read my blog have undoubtedly noticed that I've been writing a lot lately about WOWchitecture in Southeast Asia. That's what happens when you spend four months in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Today, though, I'd like to return to my hometown of the past two years, Valencia, Spain and share with you a relatively unknown Art Nouveau gem called Casa Ferrer.

The Art Nouveau movement swept across Europe and America from about 1890 until the beginning of WWI in 1914. It went by many different names and stylistic variations, depending on the location: Modernisme (Spain), Jugendstil (Germany) and Stile Floreale (Italy) to name a few.

When the movement hit Valencia near the end of the 19th century, the city was more than ready for it. With an urban area of 100,000 people, Valencia was bursting at the seams. The city's medieval walls had just been knocked down, leaving all kinds of new lands ripe for development. And Valencia, as one of Europe's largest trading ports, had the money for a grand renewal.

In 1907, Valencian architect Vincente Ferrer, was ordered by his high-society father, to build a family home on a prime corner lot in the heart of the new city. The style he chose was the Art Nouveau variant called Viennese Secession. Why Viennese Secession? No one really knows. Maybe he liked their motto, "To every age it's art. To every art it's freedom." In plain English (actually, plain German) it meant that architects no longer wanted to keep recycling classical designs; they wanted to create new designs that matched the spirit and energy of the age. 

Or maybe Ferrer just liked the influence on the movement of Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who embraced symmetry and repetition of geometric forms, usually squares. (Yes, I know that Glasgow isn't in Austria). Then again, maybe he just wanted to hang out with the hip and fun guys in the Secession movement, led by the already famous Gustav Klimt (seated):

Photo via: theviennesesecession.com

Whatever the reason, Ferrer accomplished what he set out to do: borrowing various elements from the Secession movement, combining them with his own fertile imagination, and delivering something the likes of which Valencia had never seen before. Like curved rooflines with oculus (rounded) windows:

Garlands of roses underscored by checkerboard patterns linking ceramic roundels and triglyphs:

More roses connecting the three sections of the façade:

And tiled Ginkgo leaves creating art forms in the usually vacant space separating  window levels:

Like most of the Art Nouveau masters, Ferrer took some of his design work from the outside of the building and carried it through to the interior, albeit in a more subdued and understated form. All you have to do is walk through the gingerbread-house main door:

Pass through the lobby where lights mirror the ceramic patterns outside:

Mirrors mirror the roses on the outside door:

And painted tiles add a floral display to the ceiling:

And before you know it, you'll be scooting past the inner doorway:

And walking up the leaf and rose-laden wrought-iron stairway:

Photo via: rondom1900.nl
 into the inner sanctum of the Ferrer family.

Speaking of whom, neither Ferrer's father, nor much of high-society Valencia were exactly thrilled by his artistic vision. It was too avant-garde. Too fanciful. Too foreign. But Ferrer was a man of strong will and determined direction, and he continued adding his Art Nouveau flourishes to the Valencia skyline. Perhaps one of his most refined works, a cinema, was built in 1910, just a year after Casa Ferrer was finished. Regrettably, only a part of the façade remains today.

Meanwhile, Ferrer's colleagues like Demetrio Ribes kept turning out wilder and more whimsical Art Nouveau designs, like Valencia's train station, Estacio del Nord, finished in 1917:
But that's a story for another day....