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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Vicens in Barcelona

What is Casa Vicens?

Casa Vicens is the first home designed by Antoni Gaudí, built in Barcelona in the 1880s as a summer house for the Vicens family.

Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Vicens

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Casa Vicens History

Casa Vicens was the first house Antoni Gaudí designed after graduating from Barcelona’s School of Architecture. Located in the quiet area of Gràcia, it immediately attracts the viewer's eye with its natural forms, colourful ceramic tiles, and Oriental and Neo-Moorish stylistic touches (‘Moors’ being the European name for Muslim settlers of the Iberian peninsula). The house represents not only Gaudí's coming of age as an architect, but also the beginning of the influential Catalan Modernist architectural movement.

In 1883, stockbroker Manuel Vicens i Montaner commissioned a young architect to redesign a newly acquired summer residence here in the former village of Gràcia. Gaudí, only 31 years old at the time, eagerly accepted the commission and gave free rein to his creativity. The first thing he noticed upon entering the property was the flourishing garden surrounding the building, containing palm trees and marigolds. It soon became apparent that some of this planting would have to be removed to allow for the construction works. As a result, Gaudí decided to immortalise the lost natural elements by incorporating them into the house's decor.

The ironwork, painting, and ceramics on the exterior all hark back to the plants that once surrounded the house. At the entrance to the grounds is a sizeable wrought-iron gate featuring palm leaves, to reference the trees that once towered over the building. Marigolds are featured in the ceramic tiling on the building's façade, resplendent in polychromatic hues.

Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Vicens balcony

The architect envisioned Casa Vicens as a place in which to escape the busy city and instead contemplate nature. Gaudí built large windows and a terrace that overlooked the lush Mediterranean garden with its spectacular waterfall (which was later demolished in the 1940s). The arched windows allowed the natural world to be visible while inside the house, creating continuity between the two. Natural motifs are also to be seen throughout the house. Gaudí used pressed cardboard to create three-dimensional models of ivy, fruit and flowers for the interior decor. The bedrooms, corridors and dining room are full of exuberant leafy decoration, while in the small lounge on the first floor a painting in the domed roof gives the illusion of peering through a glass window into the sky.

The Casa Vicens is also significantly influenced by Moorish design. Gaudí’s Orientalist style completely broke with the architectural norm of the period. Particularly striking is the blue smoking room, where he created a 19th-century chill-out area. The walls are embellished with lapis lazuli, Moorish vaulting and papier-mâché.

Over the years, under changes of ownership, the Casa Vicens has experienced numerous modifications. The most significant occurred in 1925 when the one-time summer residence was converted into a home for three families. In 2014, MoraBanc, a family-owned bank based in Andorra, acquired the Casa Vicens, and over the next three years Gaudí’s masterpiece was restored meticulously. This colourful structure, now open as a cultural space, not only made history by breaking from the prevailing 19th-century style of Catalan architecture, but also marks the beginning of Gaudí’s career as an architect.

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