Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Parc Guell and its amazing tile mosaics

Wall at the front of Park Guell

Roof of the Pavello de Consergeria
Window on the Pavello de Consergeria at the entrance to the park
Park Guell is one of those emblematic places in Barcelona that was something of a pilgrimage point for me when I first visited this city 24 years ago.  The park is one of the most surreal landscapes ever built on the planet, the vision of the architect Antonio Gaudi and his wealthy patron the Count Eusebi Guell, after whom the park was named.

Tiled wall flanking the entry staircase
Built originally as a housing development, the Park was built in response to the English garden movement that was becoming popular in Europe at the turn of the century.  66 triangular lots were offered for sale on a barren mountain outside the city, promoted for it's healthy atmosphere away from the industrial pollution of the urban center.  The design of the development was possibly inspired in part by influences from other places such as the building of the mental hospital at Sant Boi de Llobregat near Barcelona, which featured grottos and an undulating tile bench built by the patients as a form of therapy.

In the end only two houses were built and the development as a residential garden city failed and the project was abandoned.  It was later deeded to the city as a public park.
Straight columns support tree wells, while angled Stone columns support access roads in Park Guell

Spiraling stone columns
Beginning in 1900, Gaudi designed 3 kilometers of undulating roads to access the lots on the hill using an ingenious method of cantilevering out over a double row of columns, the main structural ones being sharply angled in to the slope.  Tree wells were incorporated in to the tops of the columns to help vegetate the barren hill.  Pedestrian paths beneath the columns provide a sheltered walkway through the park.  At a dramatic curve in the roadway, the columns have a wonderful twisted form like water spiraling down a drain.  The stonework has a rustic texture to emulate natural forms, creating a visual link between architecture and nature.

At one point the road becomes an elevated bridge with rustic stone columns planted with agaves.  Between the columns are benches with angled backs for resting and taking in the expansive views of Barcelona.  The forms in all of the architectural elements are curvaceous and organic, creating an explicit bond to forms in nature.

Agaves planted in stone columns on an elevated roadway

Entry Staircase to Park Guell
Dragon-Lizard Fountain

The entrance to the park is through gates leading to a dramatic white tiled staircase that wrap around two tiled fountains, one with a wolf or dog mask dripping water in to a grotto and another with a lizard/dragon like figure covered in colorful tile mosaic that is emblematic of the park.  This staircase leads to the Sala Hipostila, what was intended to be a marketplace, with 88 massive Doric columns supporting a white mosaic tiled ceiling with inset colored glass medallions.  The space has the feeling of a forest plantation of trees.  The columns are hollow so that water can flow through them in to a cistern underneath the structure for storing rain run off.
Mosaic ceiling of the Hipostila

Glass mosaic medallion in the ceiling of the Hipostila

On top of the market space is a broad earthen paved terrace bordered by an undulating mosaic tiled bench in the form of a serpent.  The bench is covered in broken tile, which was used for its artistic expressive qualities and for the relative economy of using large quantities of scrap tile.  This method is called Trencadis, thus the Catalan name for the bench 'Banc de Trencadis'.  It is said to be the longest bench in the World.  It is also said that in creating the ergonomic form for the bench, Gaudi had workmen press their naked buttocks in to wet clay.  I have unfortunately found no historical photos to support this claim!  The  benches have raised oval bumps evenly spaced along the seating area to allow for the bench to dry quickly after rains.  They are as a result very comfortable to sit on.
Oval bumps and drain hole incorporated in to the benches design to keep the seating dry

Banc de Trencadis, Park Guell
The trencadis designs were implemented by Gaudi's younger collaborator Josep Maria Jujol, who also worked on the mosaic facade of Gaudi's masterpiece house Casa Batllo.  The tile work varies constantly to maintain interest and contains numerous symbolic references to Christianity, nature, and the tile patterns themselves.  My favorite parts are actually on the back side of the benches which are only seen by leaning over the edge or looking down the undulating profiles.  The serpentine form creates wonderfully social spaces that are evidently successful by watching the way people use them.  While much of the tile is broken scrap, there are bands that were made specifically for the top and bottom of the back rest.  There are also disks and plates and the bottoms of glass bottles imbedded in the wall.  Some of the plates are said to have come from Jujol's own dinner wear.  One of my favorites had cherubs painted on them but they have been lost in recent restorations, which were undertaken to improve the deteriorating that occurs with glazed ceramics when exposed to the elements over time.  The restoration process has been very difficult and is well documented in an article at: http://www.gaudiclub.com/ingles/i_links/rest2.htm
White enameled ceramic circles replacing what were once ceramic plates

After my first visit to Park Guell in 1987 I returned to Portland and taught myself how to cut and set tile mosaic, and built a number of projects, including two clients kitchens, and my bathroom, which took two years to complete.  I also covered my chimney with tile to conjure the memory of Gaudi's fantastic chimneys.  I cut all of my tile using hand nippers, which in the end gave me extreme tendonitis.  I brought back an old tile cutting hammer from Morocco which I will have to try out because I am going to have to start doing tile work again now that my head is filled with new visions of trencadis.

I went over the entire length of the Banc de Trencadis obsessively to record these photos of every part that spoke to me for it's inherent beauty.  Enjoy the gallery of images.  Gracias, Jeffrey

Curves in the bench make for intimate social spaces in an expansive area

The back side has a gutter that collects rain water and a chip bag

Moorish tiles

A Carob Tree behind the Banc

The two ends of the Banc de Tencadis are lovely planters

My favorite parts are actually on the back side!

My favorite photo from that day!
The Guard house tower rises above the edge of the Banc de Trencadis at sunset with a panoramic view of Barcelona


  1. What a wonderfully detailed reportage, Jeffrey! So many things I did not know. We did our own Gaudi tour of Barcelona in October and were (and still are) simply amazed. Such a visionary.

    As are you- I look forward to viewing what comes out of your creative eyes and hands.

  2. A true masterpiece which we were fortunate enough to visit a few years ago :)

  3. Thank you for the beautiful and detailed tour of this part of the park.
    The last time I was there we entered the park from the opposite end of the park on a small winding staircase off of one of the adjoining neighborhoods.
    It was such a delight to come onto the plaza from above and meander downward, exploring all the wonderful nooks and crannies of this delightful creative environment.
    Enjoy your adventure !!

  4. This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing these gorgeous, detailed photos!

  5. Thanks for a great post and the amazing shots! Might turn out to be handy in writing my essay :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your amazing blog. I finished this right now and thinking that it is the perfect blog I was looking for . Never stop writing, and keep up such an informative blogs. Best wishes for you.
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  7. I may never get there, given this economy, but I've seen documentaries and photos for years--this is the best "tour"ever. Keep up the great work. Thank you so very much.

  8. We’ve been stumbling around the internet and found your blog along the way.

    We love your work! What a great corner of the internet :)


  9. Great article and photos. Even if we can not get the meaning of the symbols that the artists embedded in the mosaics and probably wanted to be their message to the public, we feel and enjoy the harmony of colors, abundance of patterns, intricacy of creativity. You keep working in trencadis type of mosaic in tile, I took this style to apply it to my design of silk scarves. Thanks to everybody, who inspires our imagination and desire to create something beautiful.