Every architectural building is complex, whether they appear to be or not. There are so many elements and factors that affect an architect’s design. The architect must think about the buildings functionality and sustainability all which may be affected by environmental and social contexts. The architect’s own beliefs, heritage, and experience also affect the design of their work. All these factors can be analyzed to determine how and why a building was made. It is evident that Antoni Gaudi put a lot of effort into designing Casa Mila in Barcelona, Spain. There are so many details in Casa Mila, as previously mentioned in the observation paper, which can be broken down for a better understanding of how and why each choice was made.
Antoni Gaudi was commissioned by the Mila family to create an apartment complex in Barcelona, Spain. Mrs. Mila was specifically interested in having Antoni Gaudi design the apartment building because she was fascinated with the Art Nouveau style that was taking over Europe. Antoni Gaudi was recognized for having Art Nouveau influences in his work. At the time, he was almost finished with the building of Casa Batllo, another apartment building on the same street as Casa Mila. Art Nouveau is an art style movement originating in Europe. Its influence could be seen in jewelry, furniture, sculpture, architecture, and more. It was especially popular between 1900 and 1905, around the same time Mrs. Mila commissioned Antoni Gaudi to design the Casa Mila.
Photographs of the completed Casa Mila indeed show the influence of Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau is known for its attention to aesthetic display, abstract design, and visual excess. There are so many elements in the exterior and the interior that it may be difficult for viewers to take it all in at one time. A prominent trait in Art Nouveau is the whiplash curve, a complex design dominated with curves3. This common feature is present on the exterior and interior of Gaudi’s Casa Mila. On the exterior, the whiplash curves can be seen on the balconies. The dark iron work is dominated by organic forms and tight irregular curves, changing direction with no clear pattern. The design is intricate and complex, just as one would expect from the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau. The interior also presents these special curves on the white plaster ceilings as well as the railings and other fixtures made with the same dark ironwork seen from the outside.
Casa Mila was to be an apartment complex where the Mila family would reside, as well as future tenants. Therefore, Antoni Gaudi had to meet both artistic and functional standards. Gaudi needed to keep his patron’s and future resident’s needs in mind. There are several worthy features of the building which allow the residents to live comfortably and enjoy their living space. The most evident features seen from the exterior of Casa Mila are the abundance of windows. Windows are important for a living space, they allow light and air to come into the roof, shelter inhabitants from undesirable weather conditions, and provide them a view to the city life outside. The curvature of the building allows each resident to have a unique view outside their window. Gaudi’s choice of having the curves on the exterior slightly elevated, so as to create an indented window, allows residents to have some cover or shade against rain or sun. Balconies are also greatly appreciated in apartment buildings. The unique ironwork railings of the balconies serve to protect residents from falling off, but also serve as a decorative element.
The inclusion of the courtyards in the design of the interior of the building is a unique part of the building. From the exterior, there is no sign of the courtyard, it is completely hidden from the outside world. When visitors enter through the main entrance, they may be surprised to find that they went from being outside to going inside, all while still being outside because they are in the courtyard. Gaudi blurs the line between interior and exterior and provides a unique living experience for those in the Casa Mila4. Apartment windows line the inner walls of the courtyard. Their placements of the windows are different from the windows on the exterior. They are more regularly aligned. The window’s regular alignment combined with the circular shape the courtyard creates a vertical emphasis, making visitors gaze upward. As they look upward they see the sky and are reminded of the unique space they stand in. The courtyard provides a space for residence to catch some fresh air and allows for more light to enter the apartment rooms, making the space feel more open. The circular shape of the courtyard also means that the apartment windows face each other. This gives the residents a sense of community, where they can open their windows and talk to their neighbors if they wish to. At night, the courtyard can act as a space to relax and look up at the stars.
Because Casa Mila was and still is an apartment complex, it may not be surprising that there is a garage built in the basement. It is surprising however, that the gate for the cars is the same iron gate for visitors on foot, but with different openings. This is the same entrance that flows into the courtyard, the main entrance. In the courtyard there is also stairs connecting to the second floor. These stairs seem to blend well with the wall, taking place in the periphery and leaving the visitor’s focus in the middle of the courtyard. They have iron railings, vertical columns, and flower boxes. In the second courtyard there is another set of stairs, but this time with no railings. There are green plants whose long vines hang over the edges of the staircase. The stairs function to connect the first and second floors. It is unique because it is the only staircase inside the courtyard, the other floors do not have the same connection. The stair case also has a canopy which protects those using the staircase from the rain. These two stairs were reserved for the Mila family to use. Since they lived on the first and second floors, the stair provided and easy access to the rooms. For the other residents at Casa Mila, access to the apartment rooms was done through the elevator. By constructing an elevator instead of stairs, Gaudi was able to make more room for the courtyards.
Some may see the roof of Casa Mila as simply an art display, with little functional value to it. However, like everything else, Gaudi designed the rooftop not only to make a statement but also to provide a space that serves the residents. The roof top serves the residents directly and indirectly. The rooftop is popular for its tall sculpted figures, which peek from the rooftop to those on the ground. They are placed in different areas of the roof outlining the corners of the rooftop as well as some near the courtyard openings. The figures are not just statues, they are chimneys and air vents. During cold winter nights, residents can light up their fireplace and let the smoke flow through the chimney. Some of the sculpted figures also hold the stairway exits. This is a perfect example of Gaudi’s multipurpose designs. The rooftop can also be characterized by its curved changes in elevation. The visitor would expect nothing less from the rooftop after already experiencing the rest of the building and picking up on the curved theme of the building. These changes in elevation can allow for unique look-out points into the city, and also a unique viewpoint of the rest of the rooftop. There are also some concrete archways. On the rooftop, visitors can view and appreciate another one of Gaudi’s work, La Sagrada Familia, as one of these archways clearly outlines La Sagrada Familia off in the distance. Because of the change in elevation, Gaudi included steps which allow users to walk along the rooftop easily. This spot was probably a favorite among the young children, resembling a playground. Since the openings of the courtyard are in the center of the rooftop, a large fence was used on the outline of the courtyards to protect people from falling in. This fence is transparent, allowing visitors to still look down into the courtyard if they wish, while being safe from falling in. At night the rooftop provides another unique space to look up at the sky and watch the stars or to look out and enjoy the city lights.
The attic also shows a multipurpose design within the Casa Mila. From the outside it may be unclear that it is an attic. There are small awninged windows placed along the attic on the exterior of the building as well as at the top of the courtyards. These windows were placed to regulate the temperature of the building. When the weather is hot, the windows ventilate the building to cool it down. When the weather is cold, the windows conserve the heat and warm up the building10. The attic also served as the servant’s quarter’s, back when the Mila family lived there11. Parts of the attic were transformed into apartment rooms by another architect, Barba Corsini, and the rest holds Espai Gaudi exhibition12. The inside of the attic is filled with arches made out of brick, which appear one after the other to create a hall. The halls of the attic are dark because less light comes through the small awninged windows.
The attic shows how Gaudi’s work was also influenced by his past. Antoni Gaudi spent most of his life in Cataluna, Spain which was dominated by historical architecture in Catalan Gothic and Romanesque style. When he was young, he and two other boys drew up plans for the restoration of the Monastery of Poblet, an important building for Catalan medievalists. He attended the School of Architecture in Barcelona and frequently visited medieval sites in the city. The arches in the attic reflect the popular arches seen in Catalan Gothic architecture. These arches are referred to as catenary arches. They are parabolic diaphragm arches which provide more support and eliminated the need for butrresses.
As much as Gaudi wanted his building to stand out, he had other factors to consider. He had to take into account the natural and built environment. Casa Mila was built on the Pasco de Gracia, a boulevard with other modernist buildings. People would not be so surprised that another modernists building was added to the boulevard, because there were several others before. Barcelona is known for its square grid plan, which meant Gaudi had a defined space where his building would be, in which there would be two other buildings beside it. He also had to keep the building at around the same height as the other buildings to keep the cohesion. Casa Mila is also a building located on the corner of a block, so the design had to adapt to that. It is also located in the city, so he had to find a way to make residents comfortable and forget about the noise outside. As discussed, his unique courtyards allow residents to open their windows and have a break from the city noise. Because his building was to be made in the city, Gaudi did not have to worry as much about the natural environment except for the weather, which is not bad in Barcelona anyway.
After examining Antoni Gaudi’s work on the Casa Mila, it is clear that a lot of work and thought was put into the design. He took into account the natural and built environment, the cultural context, and most importantly his patron’s needs, including those of future residents. Without careful analysis of how a design may affect others and the surrounding, an architect can determine the success of the design. If the building will be used for a purpose, it is important to have a balance of artistic form and functional value. Gaudi successfully combines both the art and the function, creating everything with a purpose.