An Unfamiliar Sagrada

An unfamiliar sagrada

When it comes to the Expiatory Church of the Sacred Family - the Sagrada Familia - everyone sees something different.

It's the honeycomb crown on the city’s skyline. It's a gospel, a bible, in stone. It's a three-dimensional intersection of helicoidal columns. It’s ‘the last great sanctuary of christendom’ (Gaudì), or 'Sugar loaves and anthills' (Nikolaus Pevsner). It's either 'the most hideous building in the world' (George Orwell) or 'a marvel of technical perfection' (Walter Gropius).

To many, it's the 'perpetually incomplete basilica,' a building site, where cranes jostle beside the spires.

However, at last, the temple appears to be nearing - dare we say it - completion.

This is a big moment for the Sagrada Familia and its current chief architect Jordi Faulí. This year, a difficult process begins which will dramatically change both the appearance of this most iconic landmark and the city skyline.

The basilica will absorb the addition of its six crowning towers - the spires of the Evangelists and the Virgin Mary (over the apse), around the central spires of Jesus Christ. It marks the start of a four-year project in which Gaudí's basilica will overtake the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts (both 154 metres) to become the city's tallest building, at a gargantuan 172.5 metres - and take shape for its final completion in 2026, marking the 100th anniversary of Antoni Gaudí's death

In the final phase of the project each tower will be topped with a sculpture. Jesus Christ's spire, which will deliberately be one metre lower than the summit of Montjuic, as 'no man-made obra should ever supercede that of God's', will be crowned by a giant cross. Of the evangelists' spires, Saint Luke's will be topped by a bull, Saint Mark's by a lion, Saint John's by an eagle, and Saint Matthew's by an angel. Meanwhile, work continues on the Glory Facade, which will be the basilica's main portico and will represent Judgement Day, not only symbolically but for the hundreds of people forced to leave their flats due to the demolition of with the nearest buildings on Carrer Mallorca.

Significant changes will already be appreciably visible next year, as the towers climb upwards beyond the height of any other churchtower in the world. Designing a way to erect these new towers in stone out of the exisiting body of the temple was no run-of-the-mill engineering project.

An austere, religious vegetarian who lived an ascetic life of ice-baths and few worldly luxuries, Gaudí knew from the start that the construction of the temple would be a task which would belong to and occupy several generations, not just his own.

After early jobs designing lamp-posts for Plaça Reial and dreaming up the neo-gothic townhouse Casa Vicens, Gaudí took on the Sagrada Familia project in 1883, at the age of 31. The church's apse had already been built and a standard Gothic revivalist project was underway. However, Gaudí immediately set about transforming the whole project, planning an entirely new kind of church, one which would draw on his interest in the curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau.

Over time it became clear that, in order to implement his utterly revolutionary ideas, new architectural methods would have to be invented. This was not enough to deter the Catalan architect from indulging his most audacious ideas, nor would it the architects who would follow in his stead, interpreting his sketches and designs generations later.

Thus, over a century later, Jordi Faulì's team of architects have had to invent a new system of engineering, one they liken to a Meccano set, in which uses pre-stressed panels allow the stone blocks to be secured in place as the towers advance upwards. Faulí describes this phase as the most difficult he has phased, since taking on the job 17 years ago.

Plans for the four-year central tower project were announced last week, with a video posted on the basilica's Youtube channel offering a 3D simulation showing how the towers will be constructed. The video features interviews with the project's architects, including Faulí, and 3D images of the reshaped cathedral. You can see it here:

This weekend, in conjunction with the Mercè festival, the Sagrada opens its doors to 30,000 visitors who will be able to inspect the latest building works. Incredibly, all the tickets were snappled up within 40 minutes of being posted online. All of the participants are anxious to experience the Sagrada Familia as it gears up for its final completion.

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