Standing in the nave of a stone forest with the leaf canopy soaring overhead sun peaking between the branches glittering in burst of frank sunlight is the effect Antoni Gaudi wanted the visitor to experience while gazing in the direction of Heaven inside his Catalan Cathedral, Sagrada Familia. Gaudi also wanted the experience of luminescent light to filter from above. The same special light that lifted impressionist Claude Monet cataract shifted perception, Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond, whose tension suspended lilies transform into orbs of islands of life, galaxies floating in time inverted in space.
” Light achieves maximum harmony at an inclination of 45°, since it resides on objects in a way that is neither horizontal nor vertical. This can be considered medium light, and it offers the most perfect vision of objects and their most exquisite nuances. It is the Mediterranean light.”-Antoni Gaudi (25 June 1852–10 June 1926)
Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus is the Catalan Cathedral still in construction in Barcelona, Spain. The structure is based on the balance of a floating tension design of a hyperboloid vault, how did Gaudi accomplish this, where does his inspiration come from ? His architecture is based on the geometry within Nature. Gaudi like Monet would invert the world to see the omni presence of gravity on blooming trees. He noticed the intricate patterns of continuous branching as a solution to distribute the forces for the spiralling columns of his buildings. These arches conformed with gravity to shed the weight across arching over spanned spaces. The concept was essentially mimicking floating tension within a fractal pattern of scaled force distribution maintaining the integrity. The message within Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, in not so much architectural but biological connectedness. We are still grasping the enormity of his artistic vision which is capable of revealing the scaled references to internal connects within cells, the enormous vector of gravity, the relation of cells to that force how they behave both locally and globally in the same time continuum. Antoni Gaudi is our most advanced teacher of Nature emphasizing the difficulty and elegance of structures, how they speak to us, how they communicate among the cells by shape sensing.
“Gaudí complemented this organic vision of architecture with a unique spatial vision that allowed him to conceive his designs in three dimensions, unlike the flat design of traditional architecture. He used to say that he had acquired this spatial sense as a boy by looking at the drawings his father made of the boilers and stills he produced. Because of this spatial conception, Gaudí always preferred to work with casts and scale models or even improvise on site as a work progressed. Reluctant to draw plans, only on rare occasions did he sketch his works, in fact only when required by authorities.”
“Another of Gaudí’s innovations in the technical realm was the use of a scale model to calculate structures: for the church of the Colònia Güell, he built a 1:10 scale model with a height of 4 metres (13 ft) in a shed next to the building. There, he set up a model that had strings with small bags full of birdshot hanging from them. On a drawing board that was attached to the ceiling he drew the floor of the church, and he hung the strings (for the catenaries) with the birdshot (for the weight) from the supporting points of the building—columns, intersection of walls. These weights produced a catenary curve both in the arches and vaults. At that point, he took a picture that, when inverted, showed the structure for columns and arches that Gaudí was looking for. Gaudí then painted over these photographs with goach or pastel. The outline of the church defined, he recorded every single detail of the building: architectural, stylistic and decorative.”
Gaudi standing beside his upside down working force model of weights. Notice how this work hangs with small bags of birdshot. These basic elements helped Gaudi with his design. He worked from the reverse frame of mind of literally turning the structure he wanted to build by studing it upside down to see how gravity would reveal the shape complexity to him. This way he knew how to assemble the mass with its elegant balance within all its elements since he knew how they positioned themselves. Guadi was a student of gravity involving floating tension, that was his genius interpretation from Nature when he looked at a tree upside down. Newton was inspired under a tree, Gaudi was inspired by the tree.
How many times have you seen the reflected image of a magnificent tree in a water field of view? Here from Wikipedia is the geometry of Gaudi:
” His study of nature translated into his use of ruled geometrical forms such as the hyperbolic paraboloid, the hyperboloid, the helicoid and the cone, which reflect the forms Gaudí found in nature. Ruled surfaces are forms generated by a straight line known as the generatrix, as it moves over one or several lines known as directrices. Gaudí found abundant examples of them in nature, for instance in rushes, reeds, and bones; he used to say that there is no better structure than the trunk of a tree or a human skeleton. These forms are at the same time functional and aesthetic, and Gaudí discovered how to adapt the language of nature to the structural forms of architecture. He used to equate the helicoid form to movement and the hyperboloid to light. Concerning ruled surfaces, he said:”
“Another element widely used by Gaudí was the catenary curve. He had studied geometry thoroughly when he was young, studying numerous articles about engineering, a field that praised the virtues of the catenary curve as a mechanical element, one which at that time, however, was used only in the construction suspension bridges. Gaudí was the first to use this element in common architecture. Catenary arches in works like the Casa Milà, the School of the Teresianas, the crypt of the Colònia Güell and the Sagrada Família allowed Gaudí to add an element of great strength to his structures, given that the catenary distributes the weight it regularly carries evenly, being affected only by self-cancelling tangential forces.
Gaudí evolved from plane to spatial geometry, to ruled geometry. These constructional forms are highly suited to the use of cheap materials such as brick. Gaudí frequently used brick laid with mortar in successive layers, as in the traditional Catalan vault. This quest for new structural solutions culminated between 1910 and 1920, when he exploited his research and experience in his masterpiece, the Sagrada Família. Gaudí conceived this church as if it were the structure of a forest, with a set of tree-like columns divided into various branches to support a structure of intertwined hyperboloid vaults. He inclined the columns so they could better resist the perpendicular pressures on their section. He also gave them a double turn helicoid shape (right turn and left turn), as in the branches and trunks of trees. This created a structure that is now known as fractal. Together with a modulation of the space that divides it into small, independent and self-supporting modules, it creates a structure that perfectly supports the mechanical traction forces without need for buttresses, as required by the neo-Gothic style. Gaudí thus achieved a rational, structured and perfectly logical solution, creating at the same time a new architectural style that was original, simple, practical and aesthetic.”
Last night on the CBS 60 Minutes program there was a broadcast documentary on this remarkable man, Antoni Gaudi. What their comments that struck me the most that,’…. he was a man a century ahead of his time.’ Yes- he most certainly was-no question – but his inspiration was from Nature. Critically he studied gravity, how gravity sensing determines shape, shape that he followed as fractal, fractal in its balance of floating tension. These terms were not used in the documentary, they should have been included because all these elements work together to create the flowing shape
Gaudi wanted to build. He could not have accomplished the design without knowing them. The commentators are still mesmerized by his genius without seeing what he saw, the designs within Nature of the very specific attachments. Gaudi’s architecture is the architecture of Nature, gravity balancing of fractal floating tension within the design.
Antoni Gaudi is the kind of man who is timeless. He sees in objects around him with the clarity of sensitivity that the average person does not pay attention to. He can see within the drop of water a world suspended in curved light. The curved light in a gravity field. Gaudi was inspired by a single drop of water transforming its coherence into a cathedral that simply stuns the observer.
Gaudi captured all the critical aspects that make up our planet Earth. He simplified his vision of the handedness, the chirality of life into the balance of a tree growing toward sunlight. The energy of the growing tree seeking light as its nourishment established its form of shape. The shape of all its elements follows the coherence of the fractal design within a floating tension between the local elements harmonizing into the total shape. The shape is the suspended vertical shape held under a balanced floating tension hidden in the intricacy of the multitudes of layered surface features. The effect is mesmerizing to the observer gazing at the sweeping vault overhead. Below, the tree is spreading its roots seeking gravity nutrients at each zone of exchange into Mother Earth.
Gaudi taught himself to design inside out from the smallest elements incorporating into the larger clusters. Life on Earth started with small-scale, with viruses with bacteria. Bacteria learned to cluster to perform as a community within a structure behaving as individual shapes surrounding their outer envelopes, but critically sensing as shapes. Bacteria are still communities acting as a biomass with a symbiotic intelligence within our gut to our central nervous system. Gaudi reveals to us the hierarchy of the inside out approach how minor supporting elements become linked into ever-expanding connections how all of this density of connections attaches into an over all shape that only becomes apparent at the very end of the building process. The Sagrada Familia is expected to be completed somewhere in the next decade. Then the repairs begin.
But realise this observation. The Gaudi cathedral is rigid, employing all the elements that Nature uses. But your brain is the same as the cathedral but a billion times more interconnected. Your brain moves in its envelope of flexibility with each life breath, the pulse flashes as a majestic expansion and contraction to the beat of your heart. Each human brain is a Gaudi cathedral of infinite complexity, completely dynamic in its potential.