Casa Milà, more commonly known as “La Pedrera” is a modernist building completed by Antonio Gaudí built between 1906-1912 and declared a Unesco Patrimony in 1984. Casa Milà was the last civil work completed by Antonio Gaudí, construction began just after he finished Casa Batlló, before dedicating his entire attention, energy, and in fact the rest of his life to the Sagrada Familia.
Casa Milà is located on the famous Passeig de Gracia, which at the time of construction was the road connecting central Barcelona to the Gracia neighbourhood. At that time it was a part of Barcelona’s expansion plan of Ildefons Cerda which is a nest of perpendicular and parallel streets equally divided (to read more about Barcelona’s expansion plan see my post on the topic here http://livelifebcn.com/2016/04/25/barcelona-expansion-plan/).
We could say that Casa Milà shows Gaudí at the peak of his architectural maturity. From the entrance where you can see the majesty of the gate, to the interior patio carriage yard, to the top floor which was built to create a room with ventilation beneficial for the building itself as well as very practical for the household chores.
Pere Milà and Roser Segimon were an upper class couple who, like most of the wealthy families in Barcelona, wanted to live on the Passeig de Gracia. He was the owner of the bull fighting ring Monumental and a press promoter; she was a young widow whose deceased husband, 38 years her senior, left her a small fortune made in Latin America. Although Casa Milà was named after the family that bought the land and contracted Gaudí, a glance at the facade explains why the five story building is nicknamed La Pedrera – Spanish for “The Quarry” – it’s impressive stone construction resembles a sort of man-made mountain. Gaudí transforms the monolithic shape into a space with vitality and movement, adding a series of waves that follow the lines of the building.
Wrought iron is the only material that decorates Casa Milà’s rocky exterior. Interestingly Gaudí’s father was an iron worker. Gaudí spent his youth in the workshops, closely observing the handcraft. Antoni Gaudí worked on the abstract design of the balconies with one of his usual collaborators, another architect, Josep Maria Jujol. Made from recycle scrap iron, the balconies are all different, though they follow the same concept and treatment of naturalist abstract shapes.
In his design for La Pedrera, Gaudí applied all the architectural innovations of the time. The facade is a self-supporting structure, totally independent of the rest of the building. He also designed an innovative interior structure based on a framework of columns and beams which did not require load-bearing walls which could then more easily adapt to the needs of each inhabitant. Two interior patios, one measuring 90 square meters and the other 150, were added to the design to get enough light and ventilation to the interior. Moreover, he perforated the patio walls with almost 200 windows, very compact and larger in size as they get lower down, to make the most of the light that pierced through from the open sky. Here we truly see how he earned his fame for being the architect of light and silence.
The entrance gate is a work of art in and of itself, a wrought iron framework with organic forms inspired by a turtle’s shell filled with glass panes. The gate is designed so natural light could fill the courtyard and facilitate visual communication with the exterior whilst guaranteeing the security of the building. The larger panes higher on the doorway were to obtain maximum exterior light, the smaller ones below were to provide more protection against breakage.
The property was designed and divided from the outset for maximum usability by the Milà family and their tenants. The basement was used as a parking lot, one of the first in Barcelona. The ground floor was the entrance and the coal bunker that fueled the heating system for the building. The 1300 square foot main floor was dedicated entirely to the Milà’s and the subsequent four floors above were divided into 300 or 500 square meter apartments for rent. The attic, with it’s Catenary arches, holds the washing room and lumber rooms.
Believe it or not, there are people still living in Casa Milà, four tenants, and three businesses. You can visit the inside of one of the apartments, just one to give you an idea of the layout of the others, and witness the practicality of the layout and architecture. The inscriptions on the ceilings are amazing; hidden symbols include nods to the modernist period, like faith represented by a cross, love, represented by a heart, and Catalan national pride represented by the four bars of the Catalan flag. Don’t miss the signature of the master, Gaudí, himself on the ceiling as well!
Moving on to the attic, Gaudí transforms it into a floor free of division with the help of 270 Catenary arches. The arches create a framework of organic appearance as well as fulfilling the mission of protecting the building from extreme temperatures. Additionally, they offer a space ideal for basic activities such as washing and hanging clothes.
With the roof terrace Gaudí transforms a space that was not usually given much attention into a universe of shapes and textures. Chimneys, ventilation towers and stairwells go beyond their role and are converted into sculptures of mesmerizing forms. Some of these shapes can even be seen from the street level due to their gigantic size (almost 8 meters) and their eye-catching trencadis (broken tile mosaic) ceramic work. A few awe-struck historians have even gone so far to say that these chimney statues anticipated the best aspects of the surrealist art movement 40 years early!
Society was not ready for this avant-garde work, contemporary critics were not kind and press of the period is full of examples of jokes that the building provoked. Some say that this backlash, combined with other personal reasons made Gaudí not accept any civil work and dedicate the rest of his life to Sagrada Familia. Now the home is owned by Caixa Catalunya, a banking company and is open to visit, you can even attend to concerts on the rooftop, which I definitely recommend. History has proven that Casa Milà is a masterwork of the highest order, definitely unmissable on your next trip to Barcelona.