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Gaudí, Sagrada Família

Antoni Gaudí, Church of the Sagrada Família or Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família Basilica, 1882- (consecrated 2010, but still under construction), Barcelona, Spain. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Male: We're in Barcelona, standing in front of Sagrada Familia, the most unusual building I have ever seen. Female: The audio guide describes it as eclectic, and I think that that's a good description. Male: Most of the church is actually the results of work that's been taking place after Gaudi, but is fairly strictly adhering to his original program. Female: We're in front of one of three facades. This one's called the Passion Facade, and it's decorated with sculptures representing Christ's suffering and man's sinfulness. Male: These are much later sculptures. Female: Right now the sun is shining on it. but there are giant shadows cast by these columns that emerge from the facade and, in a way, serve to bring us in. They reach out to us. Male: I almost don't want to call them columns because they're at such a stark angle. Columns are not at angles like this. These are buttresses. As you look at their bases, they look like the bottoms of the trunks of trees, something totally organic about them. Female: In fact, the facade feels sort of like a web, doesn't it? Male: It does, and it feels as if those columns are actually being stretched, the way that a web might be stretched, and that there is something that's actually mutable about them, that they're moving. Female: So there's a strange mixture of a sense of geometry and planarity, and a sense of movement in the organic. Male: The church takes the position that that geometry is actually a way of expressing what is important in the Catholic tradition. In fact, Gaudi spoke of the notion of the grid, which he's turning and curving in space, as actually being set of three elements, of the vertical, of a horizontal, and, of course, of the intersection of the two, locking them in place, the vertical being God the Father, the horizontal being Christ, and the intersection being the Holy Spirit. There is a kind of interesting attempt to - oh, you can hear the bells of the church now - there is a kind of interesting attempt to really fully integrate symbolism, church tradition, structure and, of course, the aesthetics of the church itself, into a kind of perfect and unified whole. Female: And, like the Gothic architects, Gaudi wanted to create the heavenly Jerusalem and the feeling, when one entered the church, of entering heaven on Earth. Male: I think that's a perfect segue. Let's go inside. Female: Okay. Male: We've just walked into the Sagrada Familia and it is extraordinary. It is a kaleidoscope of light and darkness and form. Female: Actually, I think the word kaleidoscope is a good one because, in a kaleidoscope, you move the ring around and the forms change, and it feels very much like that. As you look up at the ceiling, there are geometric shapes, and fracturing of shapes, and color coming in from the stained glass windows, and a real complexity and mystery. I keep thinking about that forest metaphor, which is really true. It feels like one is walking into a stone forest. Male: We should mention that the church is quite loud. There's a lot of background noise. There's a lot of dust in the air, and that's because there are, literally, dozens of workmen who are busily preparing for the Pope's visit later this week. This church has been under construction since 1882 and now, in 2010, the Pope is coming to visit, this week, to consecrate the church. So they're going to make sure, I think, that the interior is ready for him. Female: There's amazing light coming in through the stained glass windows, but also through the clear glass along the nave, and it really has that sense of the effect of dappled sunlight coming through a forest. Male: This is the strangest integration of classicism, but also of the Gothic notion of the organics of the church as something that grows, in a sense, up to heaven, but here taken much more literally. If we look at the individual piers, which are one of the sort of great units, of course, of traditional Gothic architecture, we have something, in some ways, much more complex. Not only is each pier, although paired with another, quite individual but, within the individual units, there's a kind of incredible geometric complexity. Starting at the bottom, we have a grounded lobing that eventually clarifies into a more traditional Doric fluting, which then divides, almost as if it's alive, and the number of points in the flutes actually double, and then double again, until the column almost becomes simply a round. Female: I find the capitals to be among the strangest things I've ever seen in my life. Some of them are decorated with oval shapes, but then others of them have this giant oval on one side of them, filled with glass and images that seem to be lit from inside the column. It's creepy and organic and animal-like, and forest-like, and leaf-like, and, simultaneously, Gothic church-like all at the same time. Male: The church is an enormously successful synthesis of bravery, of invention, of both classical and Gothic form, of geometry, of piety, and of linking our contemporary world and our contemporary technologies with an extraordinary historical precedent. (piano music)