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Sagrada Família


Sagrada Família
Why is Spain’s most iconic church still not finished after 130 years?
Sagrada Família is not a cathedral, because it doesn’t have a bishop. But it was intended from the outset to be cathedral sized. The design calls for 18 spires, seven side chapels and three grand facades. The raised choir space has room for 1,100 singers and the six separate organs will be playable from a central console to give a single instrument with 8,000 pipes. When it is completed, Sagrada Família will be the tallest church building in the world. But the extraordinary gingerbread architecture has divided opinion from the very beginning. George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”

The church was commissioned by a pious bookseller called Josep Maria Bocabella and the first stone was laid in 1882. The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí took charge of the design a year later. Because it has never received money from government or the Catholic Church, the pace of building work has always depended on the money that could be raised privately. During Gaudí’s lifetime only the crypt, the apse above it and one of the spires had been completed. Gaudí himself was not concerned with the slow progress and famously said: “My client is not in a hurry.”
Today, Sagrada Família is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain. The admission charge and other fund raising generates more than €25 million (£20 million), which now allows an extraordinary level of craftsmanship and detail on the construction. But Sagrada Família is not a museum piece. Modern construction techniques and materials are used wherever possible, including reinforced concrete, computeraided design and 3D-printing of plaster decorations. Even though Antoni Gaudí himself lies buried in the crypt at Sagrada Família, a team of engineers, artists and craftsmen remain dedicated to finishing the work he began.
Modern Interior
Sagrada Família uses elaborate branching internal columns to direct all the weight of the building downward. This allows it to have a durable stone roof, instead of the traditional wooden design, and avoids the need for flying buttresses (which Gaudí called ‘crutches’) to prop up the walls on the outside. The shapes of the columns are modelled on twisting plant stems. At their base, each column begins as a polygon or star, and the number of sides or points doubles at intervals as the columns rise, until they all become cylinders at the top. The stained glass windows are another deliberate departure from traditional Catholic church design. Normally, the panes at the bottom are in lighter colours than those near the top, to give even illumination. At Sagrada Família it’s the other way around. The windows at the top of the central nave are completely clear, to flood the vaults with light.
Sagrada Família, Modern Interior