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Palau Güell

The Palau Güell (Güell Palace), an urban residence built between 1886 and 1888 for the family of Eusebi Güell Bacigalupi, is located at No. 35 Carrer Nou de la Rambla in Barcelona. It became the first large scale work by Gaudí to clearly manifest the search for new ideas in construction as well as a totally personal, innovative interpretation of historical styles. In this case, Gaudí drew upon Gothic and Moorish styles in a splendid combination of the creative and unusual.

The design of the Palau Güell posed two immediate problems for Gaudí. The first was space limitations as the physical area is only 22 by 18 meters. The second was confidence needed to build a new home for a leading industrialist conducting an extremely social lifestyle. Gaudí created more that twenty plans for the facade, two of which he submitted to Güell for the final choice. Rather than an indication of indecision of Gaudí's part, this action can be interpreted as an attempt to see how far the understanding of a new concept of structure and composition could go. Güell chose the parabolic shape for the entrance, an act of faith in Gaudí and the first evidence of the liberty that the architect would be able to exercise in this project.

The family quarters, where the building takes on its palatial aspect, are built over a basement originally intended to be a stable with ramp access. The building centers on a grand vertical space crowned by a large parabolic dome with star-shaped windows. This vertical space runs through the whole edifice projecting beyond the roof in a high conical spire. The other areas (salons, corridors, living rooms, etc.) are organized around this space which constitutes the mail salon which served both as a chapel (with a small closet-sacrarium) and as a concert room complete with organ. Next to the chapel on the way to the dining room is the organ console, discreetly facing the room immediately adjoining the main salon. Orchestral concerts were held in this room while the choirs sat in the upper galleries. In the central salon, windows that transmit the light from the front and rear façades produce the effect of additional space. The height of the parabolic cupola also fulfills an acoustic function and is perforated by luminous symmetrical circles in which the daylight provides an impression of starlight.

The smaller rooms on the main floor give an impression of restrained monumentality. The dark-toned marble (from the Güell estate at Garraf) contrasts with the wood of the doors and the paneling of the rooms next to the gallery. These paneled rooms behind the colonnade of the hyperbolic capitals and parabolic arches have the dual function of supporting the façade and of creating a sense of space. In the meeting-room, the paneling produces a feeling of depth through a filigree of polychrome wood and gilded metal.

The luxurious interior decoration is a magnificent compendium of the taste of the time - marble columns with hyperbolic capitals, parabolic arches, ceilings paneled in precious woods, paintings by Aleix Clapés, appliqués of mother-of-pearl and ivory, and exquisitely fashioned furniture.

The facade is of rather severe stone with a running balcony along the first floor, rectangular and vertical in design, with two large doors in the form of catenary arches. Between these is set a massive coat of arms of Catalonia in wrought iron. The door grilles are of an interesting sinuous decoration, topped with an interwoven wrought iron "G". Each of the gates leads to a corresponding rear door to the where the stables were situated. From the stables lead two ramps, one for the horses and the other, in a close spiral, to the basements. There, sturdy brick mushroom-shaped columns support Catalan vaults of flat-laid brick above which lies the ground floor area intended for administrative services.

Crowning the structure is a unique roof with eighteen projecting chimney and ventilation pipes in various suggestive forms covered in trencadís (broken pieces of ceramic) which Gaudí was to use in many of his later works. A bat-shaped wind vane points the wind direction between a cross and a textured, stone spire. The rear facade is adorned with a bay window equipped with a fine wooden jalousie (a window equipped with louvers).

UNESCO classified Palau Güell as World Heritage in 1984. Owned by the Diputació de Barcelona since 1945, it now houses the Library of the Institut del Teatre.

Text kindly provided by Jonathan D. Meltzer from his excellent Gaudi Central website.

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