Published on : Friday, November 3, 2017
It’s not only the would-be voters in the Catalan independence referendum who have taken a hit in Barcelona this year. The city’s image has also suffered from anti-tourism demonstrations and terrorist attacks, and the tourist industry is down by around 15% since police violence and mass rallies grabbed international headlines in October. However, it’s down but not out.
Brand Barcelona’s comeback begins with a contribution from its heaviest hitter: Antoni Gaudí. Almost a century after his death, the architect of La Sagrada Familia is still synonymous with the city. On 16 November, Gaudí’s first house, Casa Vicens, begun in 1883, will open permanently to the public for the first time.
The house in Barcelona’s Gràcia district was commissioned by and named after Manuel Vicens i Montaner, owner of a brick factory. Vicens was perhaps persuaded to gamble on the then-unknown 31-year-old architect by the head of Barcelona’s Architecture School, who famously said upon Gaudí’s graduation: “We have given this degree to either a fool or a genius. Time will tell.”
Vicens’s audacity resulted in what many consider to be the first major work of the Catalan modernisme movement, awarded Unesco status in 2005.
A local family bought Casa Vicens from Manuel’s widow in 1899 and lived there for three generations before putting it up for sale in 2007. In 2014, Andorran financial institution MoraBanc bought it, and its meticulous three-year restoration has separated the exuberant original interiors from those of a 1924 extension, which is now all in plain white for maximum contrast. The basement will house a gift shop, while on the top floor, where little of architectural value was left, there’s an exhibition of the house’s history and influences, complete with Gaudí’s original plans.
Manager Mercedes Mora says the time is right for Casa Vicens to open to the public. “Culture moves emotions,” she says. “This could be a moment of peace.” The building is, she notes, a dialogue between contrasting elements, and even between nature and architecture.