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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

What is Casa Milà?

The Casa Milà is a modernist building designed by Antoni Gaudí in the early 20th century, which is nicknamed ‘La Pedrera’ for its unusual façade.

Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà

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Casa Milà History

The Casa Milà, built in the early 20th century, was the last residential building Antoni Gaudí designed before the architect focused his attention on the iconic Sagrada Família. Often dubbed La Pedrera (or ‘The Quarry’) due to its unusual façade, Pere Milà and Roser Segimón's house is one of the most thought-provoking and unique works of the Catalan Modernist movement.

Milà and Segimón were an upper-class couple who, like most of the well-to-do in Barcelona, aspired to live on the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia. Milà was a wealthy businessman and the owner of La Monumental bullfighting ring. Segimón was a young widow who had inherited a small fortune from her first husband. In 1905, the couple decided to invest the money from this inheritance in a plot of land here in the Eixample district.

Like other members of the bourgeoisie, they sought to highlight their wealth and good taste by building a Modernist house. To this end, they commissioned the then 53-year-old Gaudí to design a large-scale project. The building's primary purpose was to serve as the family residence, with some rental apartments incorporated on separate floors as was standard at the time. From the moment Gaudí placed the cornerstone of the house, he was granted full creative freedom and produced a masterpiece inspired, as always, by the natural world.

Casa Milà’s defining element is its exterior. Gaudí built the façade using limestone from the quarries of Montjuïc Hill. He had this laid in an undulating manner, evoking waves in the sea. The effect is emphasised by elaborate wrought-iron balconies that give the impression the structure is covered in seaweed. The combination of the undulating design of the façade and its light-coloured stone creates shifting chromatic contrasts of light and shade throughout the day. These give the impression that the building is constantly on the verge of movement, almost alive.

The interior adopts the same organic style. Sensuous curves and rippling light distribution can be found in everything from stair rails to bedsteads, door handles to balconies. However, it’s Gaudí’s innovative structural design that makes this building truly unconventional, featuring a system of pillars made from stone, brick or iron, which eliminate the need for load-bearing walls. The architect was thus free to create completely irregular floor plans, with curved walls throughout and varying ceiling heights.

Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà balconies

Despite his passion for innovative form, he ensured the building incorporated all the conveniences of modern living, including a lift and an underground garage. He also deliberately created different layouts on every floor of the building, which allowed them to be easily modified and reorganised, evolving and adapting to the individual needs of prospective tenants and owners. Over the years, the architect’s forethought proved prophetic as some of these flats went on to serve as a variety of offices and shops.

Gaudí's blend of innovative form with ingenious functionality is most evident on the rooftop, where chimney pots are shaped like anthropomorphic medieval knights. Some are unadorned; others are decorated with broken Cava bottles that are said to have been consumed at the house’s inauguration party. The architect's intention was for the roof terrace to harmonise with the undulating lines that characterise the building’s façade. Yet Gaudí's collage of shapes, silhouettes and textures transcends architecture and turns the terrace into a work of art.

Casa Milà faced harsh criticism at the time of its construction. The building was regularly mocked by contemporary satirical publications, and its nickname was intended to be derogatory. Other jibes compared it to a giant disintegrating cake and even a poorly designed sandcastle. Regardless of the initial scepticism, over a century since its construction the house is now recognised as one of Gaudí's most iconic buildings. The Modernist mansion is the culmination of the organic, free-flowing style he developed throughout his lengthy career. Today, the building houses only a handful of permanent residents and has instead become a cultural and creative space that hosts shows, artistic displays and conferences throughout the year.

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