Inside Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló is situated on the Paseo de Gracia in L'Eixample, one of Barcelona's most exclusive neighborhoods. Also on this so-called "block of discord" are the houses of other prominent industrialist families such as the Amattlers and the Lleós. At the turn of the century these families were engaged in a battle to "keep up with the Joneses." If one house featured tile, the next house would incorporate more elaborate tile. If one family hired a particular architect, the next family to build would hire a more prominent one.
Gaudí was the last architect in this competitive sequence to build in the notorious block of discord. By the time he arrived, the stakes were high, and he needed to produce something spectacular. His success is evident; the Batlló house represents a creative tour de force. It is one of Gaudí's last private commissions before he grew more reclusive and dedicated his energies to the Sagrada Familia.
Constructing the Masterpiece
To achieve his creative objectives for the Batlló house, Gaudí completely disregarded municipal building regulations. In 1904 he submitted vague plans to the city council, requested work permits, and simultaneously initiated construction based on his plaster model of the street facade.
In 1906 the city council ordered the construction to stop due to the absence of a work permit. By then, however, the remodel work was nearly complete, and fifteen days later Josep Batlló requested permission from the city to rent out the upper floors of the building.
One way that Gaudí violated the civic building regulations was to push the lower three floors two feet (60 centimeters) into the public sidewalk. For many years the Batlló family rented the ground floor to the proprietor of an antique shop. Having the bone-like sandstone columns "jump out" into the Paseo de Gracia was the best form of advertising this merchant could have wanted.
The gallery on the second floor, corresponding to the Batlló's living room, is marked by elaborately carved sandstone and appears to assert the family's economic power in Barcelona. The third floor, housing the bedroom quarters of the Batlló apartment, has two full-length bay windows that extend over the pavement. More discrete vaulted balconies characterize the top three floors, which were rented out to others.
Gaudí was clearly focused on the public face of the building. He demolished the exterior walls of the lower three floors and conserved the upper section of the facade. On the first three floors, he concentrated the most expensive materials, such as sandstone.
For the mosaic that covers the upper section of the exterior wall, the architect applied pieces of recycled glass and custom-made ceramic disks. When the sun hits the front of the building during the day, the facade magically materializes and dematerializes in a celebration of color. By chipping away at the brick of the original building and then covering the uneven surface with lime mortar and mosaic, the architect intensified this optical effect. He then crowned the building with an attic covered by scale-like tiles and completed the composition with a medieval-style turret.
Inside the Casa
Gaudí made several fundamental changes to the private spaces of the house. He expanded the elevated terrace at the rear of the building, refinished it with ceramics of his own design, and covered the rear facade with mosaic.
On the second and third floors Gaudí dramatically reorganized the distribution of interior spaces. Replacing the existing angular walls with curved ones, he created living areas with flexibility and a tendency towards an open plan. Notable in this respect is the living room, which can be expanded by opening folding wood doors.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...