As regular readers know, we spent most of last week in Barcelona, Spain. Before you get too jealous, it was a business trip, so we had little time for much beyond the conference we came to attend.
That, plus we’ve spent several weeks in Barcelona previously and have ceased to really enjoy it. While the architecture is stunning, the labyrinthine Barri Gòtic has been largely overrun by chain stores (albeit Spanish chain stores), mediocre restaurants and touristic chocolate shops, transforming the center of the ancient city into a Disneyfied simulcrum of itself.
The exception, in our opinion, are the buildings and parks of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Playful, organic, original and at times psychedelic, it amazes and inspires.
So this past Thursday, finding ourselves with a few hours to spare between work and dinner out with friends, we hopped on the Metro and made our way to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s epic masterpiece. We’d visited the soaring, rollicking, heart-stopping church on our previous visits as well, but the complexity and depth of detail make its enjoyment virtually inexhaustible.
It was night when we arrived, so we were limited to circling the outside, but those who have visited know that there is more than enough to engage there. Every inch of its surface is covered in fine detail of varying styles. The eastern facade tells the story of the Nativity, with characters and vignettes emerging from a pelagic maelstrom of stone waves, lapping and cresting in fractal patterns. The more modernist western facade, with its sharp and spare, faintly cubist forms, tells the story of the Passion.
The western facade, like many parts of the building, was designed by a different architect, Josep Maria Subirachs. Gaudi began work on the massive Catholic church in 1882 and continued to work on it through his death in 1926 (and exclusively after 1911). Since then, a steady stream of architects, artists and craftsman have lent their skills to it completion, both in design and construction. It is not scheduled for completion until 2026.
A 144-year construction project may seem like a debacle by American development standards, but it’s hardly unusual for an old world church. The cathedral of Cologne, for example, was begun in 1248 and not completed until 1880. Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was begun in 1160 and completed in 1345.
Perhaps when you live in a city that is 2,400 years old, it’s easier to take the long-term view that such multi-generational projects demand. It’s inspirational the way the generations have contributed to the church, knowing they themselves will not be alive to witness its completion. A gift to those who follow.
It left me wishing Seattle could take on that same vast vision. Take the tunnel, for example. When people talk about it, they generally sight its multi-billion dollar price tag and then note that it wouldn’t even be usable until 2016.
2016. $4 billion. What is that on the scale of generations? The 2009 budget for Sagrada Familia, one year of its 144-year schedule, will be roughly $28 million, and all they get out of it is a church.
So what is our Sagrada Seattle, our multi-generational gift to those who follow? It doesn’t need to be quite as soaring, but we should be deliberate about choosing it. Is it reshaping the city-scape with tunnels and a robust transit system, so parks can flourish where roads and highways dominate? Is it a senior center where one generation can care for the last? A network of community centers planted in our neighborhoods?
Practical, worthwhile, but perhaps too prosaic? What’s your vision for Sagrada Seattle?