Salvador Dalí — Architect
The first hut served as an entrance, dining room, living room, studio, and bedroom. A few steps led up to a modest kitchen, bathroom, and shower. In these small spaces, Dalí led a Spartan life. He wrote: "It was there that I learned to impoverish myself, to limit and fix down my thought so that it would become as effective as an ax... It was a hard life, without metaphor or wine."
The purchase of the house coincided with Dalí's coming of age sexually and the beginning of his relationship with Gala. At this time he created some of his most sexually charged paintings and developed his fundamental artistic leitmotifs — the hard and the soft, putrefaction, sexual ambiguity, and provocation.
Dalí had not yet established a strong commercial following, but he declared: "In Paris we will earn the money required to finish the Port Lligat house" and proclaimed he would "make gold rain from the sky."
Interestingly, he represented his artistic philosophy as irrational and revolutionary, but his motivation, the Port Lligat house, was fundamentally mundane and rational. The house began to reflect the inconsistency between his invented persona and his more moderate, conformist self.
Building a Retreat from Fame
By 1933, Dalí was a sensation in Paris, and the following year he traveled to New York where he had a highly successful exhibition. He returned to Port Lligat in 1935 with both the plans and the means to expand the house. At this point Dalí contracted a builder, Emili Puignau, to realize his designs.
Over the original two huts, Dalí had Puignau build another level. The primitive structures could not bear the weight of the second floor, so Puignau constructed a steel support system which he covered with stucco to conserve the Mediterranean aesthetic.
Each cellular element of the second floor had panoramic windows oriented to the bay, like those on the ground floor. Although this phase did not incorporate more existing huts, Dalí continued to conceive the house as a succession of small units.
In public, his character was larger than life, but in private, Dalí preferred intimate, womb-like spaces. The house is characterized by an open plan and full of fireplaces, niches, alcoves, and built-in benches. On the exterior the house evolved from two huts to a villa, but through the cascading design and juxtaposition of rooftops Dalí downplayed its overall size.
During the early 1930s, the house grew to reflect the symbiotic relationship between Dalí and Gala. Dalí described their marriage in organic, structural terms: "Instead of making myself solid (hard)...Gala built a snail's shell for me... and while I seemed increasingly to be a stronghold from the standpoint of the outside world, I continued on the inside to degenerate into a soft mass, a super soft mass." Their partnership served as a foundation for Dalí's career and the house as the physical expression of this.
In 1936, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Dalí and Gala were forced to abandon Port Lligat. The same year, Dalí was featured in a exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the age of 32, he appeared triumphant on the cover of Time Magazine. For a period, the couple stayed in Italy and France, but by 1940, World War II drove them into exile in the United States.
There until 1948, Dalí engaged a wide range of collaborative projects in opera, film, and fashion, although most art historians agree that the quality of his paintings declined. Dalí and Gala became financially successful fixtures in high society. Their lives became a public spectacle, from which they could not retreat to Port Lligat's rustic serenity.
After World War II, Dalí and Gala returned to Port Lligat and established their permanent residence there. Dalí acquired another fisherman's hut which was molded into a library and living room, with a fireplace forming a loose boundary between the two areas. The artist would later repeat this formula of a fireplace as an axis of transition between the so-called "Bird Room" and the bedroom.
Between 1949 and 1952, Dalí acquired three more fisherman's huts to accommodate both the couple's new lifestyle and a work process that could feed the impressive marketing machine they had created. During this period the present bedroom was built, along with a new kitchen and permanent servant quarters.
The bedroom reflects Dalí's most extravagant tendencies, as illustrated by the imposing imperial style of the beds. His desire to work in larger formats required more studio space not only for the canvases, but also for the team of assistants who now were involved in the production of his paintings. This meant that the house's interior was no longer simply a refuge for Dalí and Gala, but also a business address.
In the late 1950s and early 60s Gala and Dalí began to distance themselves from one another. This shift was reflected in the construction of the Oval Room, a hemispherical space decorated in an oriental style and destined for Gala's exclusive use. This addition sharply contrasted with the previously open plan of the house.
Dalí filled the gap created by Gala's increasing absence by designing an elaborate stage-garden and surrounding himself by an adoring entourage of young "hippies." The culmination of this more public phase in the house's evolution was the construction of the phallic-shaped pool in 1971. In this lively setting, Dalí threw memorable parties and staged numerous publicity stunts.
Deeming the house complete, Dalí dedicated his passion and energy to other projects, especially the Theatre-Museum in Figueras, a shrine to himself and his body of work. In 1982 he took up residence there. Seven years later, the man who converted two fishermen's huts into a village died on the stage he designed.
Last year marked the International Year of Dalí, commemorating his birth in 1904. Two major Dalí exhibits are in the United States until May 2005.
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Rachel Grossman writes about travel, fine arts, architecture, and interior design from Alicante, Spain. She holds a graduate degree from the Courtauld Institute in Modern Art History.
Except as noted, images are kindly given by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation. All rights reserved.