Mark Byrnes

Taking stock of the once-forgotten architect's surrealist legacy on his 161st birthday.

Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí would have turned 161 today. Over his career, Gaudí built nearly a dozen structures in Barcelona, including houses, commercial buildings and churches. His lusciously expressive, art nouveau work made him a highly desired architect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But financial difficulties and the deaths of multiple friends, clients and family made for difficult final years. Gaudí was struck and killed by a tram in Barcelona in 1926 at the age of 73. His most famous work, the Sagrada Familia church, was left (and remains) unfinished. 

Ceiling detail of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia basilica. Image courtesy SBA73/Wikimedia Commons.

After his death, rational and restrained design came into vogue. Gaudí's expressive, imaginative style was seen by many as irrelevant and outdated. 

But by the 1950s his work regained acclaim, much in part to praise from people like surrealist Salvador Dalí and modernist architect Josep Lluís Sert. A "Friends of Gaudí" association was created in 1952 to help conserve his legacy, and New York's MoMA hosted the first ever international exhibit dedicated to Gaudí's work in 1957. Eventually, his newfound popularity led to several of his buildings designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984.

Gaudí's Casa Batlló (left), El Capricho (center) and Church of Colònia Güell (right). Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Praise for Gaudí has only grown since, with the archbishop of Barcelona proposing Gaudí, a deeply religious man, be beatificatied in 1998, (Sagrada Familia was proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010). In 2002, a 150th anniversary celebration of his birth was held in his home city, a celebration that included official ceremonies, concerts, shows and conferences. 

Sagrada Familia remains incomplete (officials hope to have it finished by 2026), but praise for Gaudí and his work is as high as ever. Perhaps no better proof of that exists in current times than being honored in today's Google Doodle

Illustration by Mark Byrnes. Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Flickr user CarolSandra

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