The 1860 Eixample plan of city expansion, also known as Plan CerdГ , was meant to free the growing city populace from the grip of Gothic boundaries of the Old Town. "Eixample" in Catalan literally means "enlargement". The release of the plan coincided with the blooming artistic creativity in Barcelona, and nowhere else was it as evident as in architecture. The land between Barcelona and GrГ cia became hot commodity at the end of the 19th century and land wars for proprietorship supplied abundant work for architects of that time. What was not fully realized, however, was the caliber of talent and skill of these artists.
The role of the leading man in the development of Eixample was assumed by Antoni GaudГ i Cornet (1852-1926), the native of Reus, who initially studied metalwork, but graduated with a diploma in architecture in 1878. GaudГ became the face of the architectural style that astounded the primordially mediocre European city with its abundant imagination, innovation and fantasy. This wave of creativity subsided quickly, as the prime years of Modern style fell on the 1880-1910s.
Modern style was not an isolated phenomenon restricted only to Barcelona. The English and the French called this style "Art Nouveau" (New art), Italians referred to it as Lo Stile Liberty (Free style), Germans called it Jugendstil (Style of Youth) and in Austria it was known as Sezession (Secession). The vitality and certain recalcitrance of Modern style is perfectly reflected in the epithets that are used to describe the style in Europe, mainly вЂ“ "freedom", "youth", and "dissidence". The key element that united all of the variations of Modern style in Europe were sensuous curves instead of sharp angles that purported freedom and lightness of natural movement. This aspect, along with Japanese art, influenced the Art Nouveau thinking as well.
Despite all of these attributes of Modern style, there is something elusively wrong with the title, as it implies the full rejection of old tradition in favour of a completely new one. In some sense, this is absolutely incorrect. Starting with GaudГ, the Modernist artists found their inspiration in the classics, and borrowings from Gothic architecture, along with Islamic design and the art of Renaissance, influenced the development of Modern style significantly. Modern at its frivolous best was an interpretation of architectural styles of the past and their skillful and exciting mixture. Even the materials that the Modernists used were all pretty traditional in architecture - it was the way these materials were used that constituted the innovation.
No fewer than 2000 buildings in Barcelona and around Catalonia demonstrate the influence of Modern style, in some places more evidently than in others. Plus, GaudГ and colleagues readily accepted commissions outside Catalonia as well! Everything from mansions to churches, from hospitals to factories, was built with a Modernist flair and its incredible eclecticism and playful impertinence.
Having at one's disposal a talented artist is one thing, but living at a time of the whole pleiad of outstanding artists is a miracle... yet this is precisely what happened to Barcelona at the end of the 19th century. However, the spreading of the Modernist style was made possible by the influx of capital, hard cash into architectural firms вЂ“ after all, every artist needs a muse and a patron. GaudГ and other Modernists were not lacking orders, and the area of Eixample became their perfect playground where everything was possible and allowed. While the creations of GaudГ and his colleagues were filling with tenants, the proprietors of the buildings were spreading the word and starting a rather lucrative chain reaction. The upper class of Barcelona had to keep up with the Modernist fashion: for decades to come it was quite difficult to come across an architect in Catalonia who had not yet experimented with something Modernist to satisfy his clients.