Gaudí's Fantastic Casa Vicens Opens to the Public For the First Time

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By Charlotte West
Completed in 1885, architect Antoni Gaudí’s first residential project opens today as a museum in Barcelona’s Gràcia district.

This is the first time the modernist masterpiece, which would inform much of Gaudí's later work, is open to the public. Spanish architect David García of Daw Office talks to us about his involvement in the restoration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Originally built as a summer home for the wealthy Vicens family between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was converted from a single-family dwelling into three separate residences on different floors in 1925. Additional renovations were undertaken in 1935 and 1964. 

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In 2005, Casa Vicens was added to the list of the Spanish architect’s projects that have achieved UNESCO World Heritage status, including the still unfinished La Sagrada Familia. Featuring Gaudí’s signature tile work and geometric patterns, Casa Vicens incorporates Moorish architectural elements and pays homage to nature through details such as orange marigolds on the facade. 

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Architect David García, along with José Antonio Martínez Lapeña and Elías Torres of Martínez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectes, led the restoration efforts. The restoration work focused on recovering and showcasing the original house to the greatest extent possible. 

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The architects opened up spaces, such as a gallery that originally connected the garden and dining room, that had been closed off during the 1925 renovation, and designed a new staircase to allow movement between the three floors.

García, who has been involved in restoration efforts since 2014, shared the challenges of maintaining the artistic heritage of Casa Vicens while making complex structural and technical changes to its architecture. 

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Could you elaborate on the restoration work that you did for Casa Vicens? What kinds of architectural interventions were made? 

We had three main aims in the project design. The first one was regarding the restoration of the artistic heritage from the house focusing on what we know from historical records and research we undertook, without interpreting (or mis-interpreting) anything for which we have no record. 

The second was the conversion from a multi-family residence to a house-museum. This involved big structural and technical changes in order to comply with current construction regulations without jeopardizing the pre-existing ornamental features from the house. Throughout this project we have respected the original artistic heritage at all times. 

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The house was constructed over two periods of time. One was the original semi-detached family house, designed by Gaudí in 1883 and the second was an extension of the house converting it into a multi-family house in 1925 by his apprentice Serra Martínez. As a result, the third aim was to join these two architecturally distinct phases into one single building that recovers the essence of the original projects as a house museum. We distinguished our interventions in the house from the original style in order to contrast with the original and highlight it. 

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Could you comment briefly on what it was like working on not only a piece of Barcelona's architectural history, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site? 

Of course, any architect would be extremely excited to be involved in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I will probably never have another opportunity to do that. The experience has been a mix of a big architectural challenge, complete dedication, passion, and learning. 

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What is your favorite architectural detail in Casa Vicens? 

For us, all the artistic ornamental features are very interesting in their own right, and also all the rooms have their own unique style and feeling. Nevertheless, the most interesting challenge for me was how to resolve the details at the point at which our architecture and the original architecture meet. 

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Any suggestions for things visitors should look for when they go to the museum? 

Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the first example of Gaudí’s work, and in particular I would highlight that this is the first attempt to connect his architecture with the natural world through ornamental design, which would later evolve through the structure and formal designs, to inspire...projects such as La Sagrada Familia.    

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