Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Vicens in Barcelona Restored by Martínez Lapeña–Torres Arquitectes & Daw Office.
Like most of Gaudí’s work, this famous, first residential commission of the Catalonian architect, it is not subtle. No-one could accuse Antoni Gaudí of being a minimalist. The striking exterior of layered brick patterns, highly decorative tiling, the Moorish architecture and the lancet arches are all trademark Gaudí moments. After three years of meticulous restoration by Barcelona based Martiñez Lapeña Torres Arquitectes and Daw Office, Casa Vicens has opened to the public.
Originally commissioned in 1877 as a summer home for a rich financier, Casa Vicens was one of Gaudí’s first examples of gothic meets art-nouveau buildings. A façade of rich red brick, curious tile work and heavy ornamentation was a style that had not been seen in Catalonia previously. Gaudí was heavily influenced by the articulated Islamic architecture of North Africa and parts of Spain and Portugal. The horseshoe arches, voussoirs, domes, courtyards, corbels, the pinnacle-shaped windows and decorative tile work known as azulejo in Spanish, are all evidence of Gaudi’s interest and influence from Arabic architecture.
The house has always been a private residence. It was converted into three apartments in the 1920s, then used again as a single-family home for almost a century. Casa Vicens is one of eight projects that the architect built in or near Barcelona recognised by UNESCO as world heritage sites. It will also be the last to open to the public.
One of the biggest challenges of this project was the transformation of a private residence into a museum. This was in part achieved by introducing a sculptural vertical element – the arresting white staircase, which organically wraps its way up towards the ceiling. The project team also converted the basement and attic into exhibition spaces and a library-shop.
There is a strong love of nature in Gaudí’s Casa Vicens’ interior. The decorative external elements are similarly matched by the attention to detail in the grandiose wall friezes and painted ceilings of the internal rooms. Botanicals, floral forms, daisies, olive branches and signs of nature springing to life are all depicted in the exquisite murals. Fruit is carved into the smoking room’s recesses, cleaned after 130 years to reveal the lapis lazuli Mudejar vaulting – crafted from papier-mâché. Flamingos dance along the walls too, all meticulously restored.
The painstaking restoration and problem solving involved in bringing the master’s first residential building to the people is a testament to the Catalonian’s reverence of Gaudí’s exceptional creative contribution to the development of architecture.