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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Antoni Gaudí’s Palau Güell in Barcelona

What is Palau Güell?

Palau Güell, or Güell Palace in English, is an urban mansion in Barcelona that was designed in the 1880s by architect Antoni Gaudí for his main patron, businessman and industrialist Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi.

Antoni Gaudí’s Palau Güell entrance

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Güell Palace History

In 1885, businessman and industrialist Count Eusebi Güell commissioned Antoni Gaudí to design this luxurious urban palace as an extension to his family home on La Rambla (to which its connected by a corridor). The plot was located within the Raval neighbourhood, in contrast to the prevailing trend for wealthy bourgeois families to leave the city centre in favour of the newly developed Eixample district, in search of space, light and modernity.

The Raval neighbourhood remained a crowded, dark and busy area, famous for its nightlife and brothels. To insulate his wealthy clients from Barcelona's hustle and bustle, Gaudí came up with a deliberately introspective design, plain on the outside but luxurious on the inside. The façade was constructed in white limestone from the quarries owned by Güell in El Garraf, just west of the city. Only a gallery on the main floor breaks the austerity of the building’s façade.

Gaudí's main challenge with the Palau Güell was the lack of space and interior light. The architect finally found a solution to this by building a three-storey central hall covered by a parabolic dome that allowed light in through a series of small openings as well as a large central oculus. Rooms were distributed around this, successfully giving the Palau Güell a sense of spaciousness despite the fact that it stands on a relatively small plot.

Antoni Gaudí’s Palau Güell bird detail

Eusebi Güell frequently used the central space for concerts, seating his visitors on the ground floor and placing the orchestra and singers on different storeys, creating layers of sound that reverberated from the central dome. The Palau Güell was a family residence, but also a social and cultural meeting place for the bourgeoisie. Aware of his patron’s sociable disposition, Gaudí designated the reception rooms according to the type of social gathering the family might host there. Front rooms looking out of the main façade were reserved for visitors. By contrast, backward-facing rooms overlooking the rear patio were intended for private, informal reunions.

The use of colour, a notable feature of Gaudí’s later work, was limited to the eye-catching chimneys on the building’s roof terrace. The architect transformed these unusual shaped structures into works of art using the trencadís method, where a surface is decorated with a mosaic of irregular pieces of ceramic, glass or marble tiles. The 20 chimneys paid tribute to the Raval's tangle of rooftops and gave the family a unique space from which to observe the bustling area around them.

Despite Güell's monetary investment and fondness for the palace, he only lived here for 20 years. He moved to a mansion in the Park Güell, the residential development he had commissioned Gaudí to design as a green retreat for Barcelona’s wealthiest citizens. After Eusebi Güell's death, the palace was inherited by his children who eventually handed the property over to the city council in 1945, on condition that it could not be altered or demolished. As a result, the building remains intact, never having undergone substantial modification. Today, the Palau Güell is acknowledged as one of Gaudí’s greatest masterpieces. Not only does the design of the palace hint at his future architectural works, but the house marked the beginning of a life-long association and friendship between Antoni Gaudí and Eusebi Güell.

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