The construction began in a neo-Gothic style, but when Gaudí took over the project in 1883, he completely re-directed it. Working in his usual manner, from rough sketches of the building, he improvised its construction as it progressed. He took over the project when he was just 31, and dedicated his life to it. In the 15 years leading up to his death, it was his sole focus.
One of his most innovative ideas was the design of the conical raised towers, that stretch out above the portals, dizzying in height. Gaudí wanted them to appear sharp and twisting, giving a towering feel to the whole facade complementing the many windows which puncture the towers, following its spiral form.
An enormous Catholic basilica, designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. Begun in 1882 it is still under construction. It is Gaudí's master piece, and the finest example of modernist Catalan architecture.
The temple, when it is finished, will have 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the Apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Jesus and another to Mary. During Gaudí's lifetime, only the Nativity Facade was constructed, with sculptures by Carles Mani, Llorenç Matamala and Joan Matamala and pictures by Ricard Opisso. Gaudí only saw one of the towers erected before his death. When Gaudí died in 1925, his assistant Domènec Sugrañes took over the project until 1936, finishing the three remaining towers of the Nativity facade.
During the Spanish Civil War, much of the workshop in which Gaudí worked was destroyed by anarchists, along with his sketches, plans, and models Because of this attack, and because of Gaudí's particular way of working, no plans or directions about the completion of the temple exist. So, in 1944, when construction of the Sagrada Familia resumed, the pressing question was how to proceed and build the temple, remaining as loyal as possible to Gaudí's vision.
Dedicated to the joy felt at the birth of Jesus, this facade features colourful decorations which evoke a sense of life. it focuses on the most human and familial aspect of Jesus, and features a wide range of everyday elements, such as tools, and domestic animals. Facing the north east, it is divided into three porticos, dedicated to the three theological virtues: Hope to the left, Faith to the right, and Charity in the centre, with the door of Jesus y and the Tree of Life at the top.
This facade was said by Gaudí to give a general idea of the structure and decoration of the temple. As he knew he would not be able to finish the project during his lifetime, he preferred, instead of building it piece by piece in a linear fashion, to construct an entire facade from top to bottom, in order to give a clear impression of how the rest should look. He chose this facade because he felt it would be the most attractive to the public, and so inspiring the continuation of the work after his death. In his own words:
"If instead of building this facade - decorative, ornamental, and rounded - I had started with the Passion Facade - hard, bare, and bony - the people would have abandoned it."
Work on the passion facade began en 1954, following the drawings and notes that Gaudí had left. The towers were finished in 1976, and since then the work has focused on the facade's decorative sculpture. Gaudí conceived this facade's design during his recovery from Maltese fever in Puigcerdà, in 1911.
Passion of Jesus, it attempts to reflect Jesus's suffering at his crucifixion as a redemption of the sins of man. As such it is plain and austere in design, its lack of ornamentation highlighting the bareness of the stonework, like a skeleton reduced to the simple lines of its bones. The sculptures are devoted to the passion of Jesus. The sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs, created a similar and schematic design, with angular forms that create an immediate dramatic effect. Subirachs started the work in 1987, and continues today.
Gaudí himself described his concept of the facade, "Some will find this door too imposing, but I want it to create fear, and to do that I will be liberal in using chiaroscuro (dark, angular shadows contrasted with harsh, rigid light), so it will be as dismal as possible. Not just that, I am ready to make sacrifices in the building itself, to break arches and cut columns in order to get across the bloodiness of His sacrifice."
Gaudí envisaged a tower of great height, visible from anywhere in Barcelona, and standing out from the buildings around it. For this reason he wanted the Sagrada Familia to have 18 towers, 12 dedicated to the Apostles, 4 to the evangelists, and the two tallest to Jesus and to Mary. They are of different heights, between 78 and 170 metres.
The towers are bell towers, containing a total of 84 bells. The nativity facade has percussive tubular bells, the passion facade tubular organ bells, and the Gloria facade contains tuned bells, with the notes do, mi, and sol. Gaudí studied the acoustics in depth in order to obtain a perfect sound. Inside the towers are spiral staircases. inspired by another natural creature, a type of sea snail called a torrecilla.
Gaudí developed the project from its gothic beginnings into his personal, organic style, inspired by natural forms. In order to free himself from Gothic buttresses he had the idea to use of columns, in the shape of tree trunks, which allowed the weight of the structure to be supported from the ground, a solution that was both aesthetically pleasing and practical, transforming the nave inside into a huge, organic space, resembling a forest.
The Sagrada Família contains a museum in its cellar, placed in the cellar of the temple, underneath the cross, where the workshops were once located. Inaugurated on June 29, 1961, it shows Gaudí's original plans and drawings , models of the temple and various artefacts related to the project, especially the temple's furniture designed by Gaudí.
Also notable is a model made of cords and weights, used to calculate the structure of the building and to design another work, the Church of Colonia Güell on a 1/15 scale. Many of the structural solutions Gaudí employed in the Sagrada Familia came from this earlier project.