Gaudi’s Casa Vicens, from private housing to UNESCO heritage. It’s the first masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí and sowed the seeds of later works.
The first house designed by the iconic architect – exuberant Casa Vicens in the beleaguered city’s Gràcia district – opens to the public later this month. Built between 1883 and 1885 as a summer house for the Vicens family, here he showcased his unparalleled talent. Declared Unesco World Heritage in 2005.
Brand Barcelona’s comeback begins with a contribution from its heaviest hitter: Antoni Gaudí. Almost a century after his death, the architect of La Sagrada Familia is still synonymous with the city. On 16 November, Gaudí’s first house, Casa Vicens, will open permanently to the public for the first time.
The house in Barcelona’s Gràcia district was commissioned by and named after Manuel Vicens i Montaner, owner of a brick factory. Vicens was perhaps persuaded to gamble on the then-unknown 31-year-old architect by the head of Barcelona’s Architecture School, who famously said upon Gaudí’s graduation: “We have given this degree to either a fool or a genius. Time will tell.”
Vicens’s audacity resulted in what many consider to be the first major work of the Catalan modernisme movement.
Casa Vicens Awarded Unesco status in 2005.
Once surrounded by fields and smallholdings, the house now looks even more striking hemmed in by blocks of prosaic flats. Like much of the architect’s work, it is a glorious gallimaufry of styles, combining Japanese, Moorish-revival and original elements into an improbable success. Gullies of colourful bricks dribble from the eaves like a Lego model of a half-iced cake; viciously spiked wrought-iron gates are framed by green tiles in a marigolds design; leaf patterns on interior walls could be reflections of the garden or an allegory of the journey of Christ. Nothing is as it seems.
A local family bought Casa Vicens from Manuel’s widow in 1899. They lived there for three generations before putting it up for sale in 2007. In 2014, Andorran financial institution MoraBanc bought it. Its meticulous three-year restoration by JOSÉ ANTONIO MARTÍNEZ LAPEÑA & ELÍAS TORRES Architects has separated the exuberant original interiors from those of a 1924 extension, which is now all in plain white for maximum contrast.
The basement will house a gift shop, while on the top floor; where little of architectural value was left. There’s an exhibition of the house’s history and influences, complete with Gaudí’s original plans.
Manager Mercedes Mora says the time is right for Casa Vicens to open to the public. “Culture moves emotions,” she says. “This could be a moment of peace.” The building is, she notes, a dialogue between contrasting elements, and even between nature and architecture. “This is the essence of Gaudí’s universe – the garden of Catalan modernisme. We can see the seeds of styles and techniques that he nurtured throughout his career, and of others he used only here”. “It represents a new way of thinking.”