Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Nautically Radical Casa Batlló

I toured another of Gaudí's creations. This one, Casa Batlló, was just as impressive as The Fantastical La Pedrera -- perhaps even moreso given the nautical theme that flowed throughout the entire home.

The roof of Casa Batlló is topped with a dragon's spine, formed
by colorful overlapping tiles and irrdescently shimmering mosiacs.

Casa Batlló is one of three modernist buildings on one block of Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia. The three buildings were renovated at the turn of the century, between 1898 and 1906. The houses, which are testament to the range of Modernist and Art Nouveau styles from the era, give the block the nickname "Block of Discord."

Two of the "Block of Discord" houses are Casa Amatller
(on the left, designed by Puig i Cadafalch) and
Casa Batlló (on the right, designed by Antoni Gaudí).

The building that would become Casa Batlló was originally constructed in 1877. At the time it was built, it was a plain and unremarkable building. When Josep Batlló bought the building thirteen years later, he wanted it to be transformed from a drab property to a bold one. Batlló hired Antoni Gaudí and his crew to remodel the home, which took place from 1904 to 1906. Like La Pedrera, Casa Batlló is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Admission to both La Pedrera and Casa Batlló includes an audioguide. Whereas the audioguide for La Pedrera is truly an audio guide, the guide for Casa Batlló consists of an audio element and an augmented reality element.

There is no furniture in Casa Batlló, which is a good thing, as the rooms are crowded as is with tourists. The audioguide device, however, augments reality by showing how the room would appear if it were furnished. To see this, tourists aim their audioguide devices around the room as the furnished room is projected onto their screens.

The audioguide augments reality
by showing how furnishings would appear.

Though I'm all for augmented reality, the audioguide experience at Casa Batlló was quite frustrating. Not only was the house crowded with tourists, but my eyes were busy taking in the house's many details, and my ears were busy listening to and comprehending the audio. Layer on the augmented reality, and I was getting flustered with major sensory overload. Plus, although the audioguide device allowed me to pause the audio, it didn't have a rewind or fast forward feature. As such, if I missed hearing something, I had to re-listen to the entire track.

A few rooms into the tour, I established a deliberate routine to help manage the sensory overload. First, I focused on absorbing the visuals of the room. Then, I listened to the audio. Finally, I concentrated on the augmented reality experience. I had to tuck myself into a corner in each room so I could have unbothered space without being swept up in the tides of crowds that seemed to rush from room-to-room. Fortunately, the crowds would ebb and flow, and so I had brief moments when I could enjoy the space (nearly) to myself.

The Exterior

Casa Batlló's nautical theme is present in many details of the building's facade.

The vertical columns resemble bones and the balconies resembles fish jaws.

The circular stained-glass windows bring to mind jellyfish and mollusks.

The walls look like the colorful surface of the water
when a stone is cast into a pond of lilies.

The Noble Floor

The main floor of the building is referred to as the "noble floor." This is where the Batlló family lived. The other floors were occupied by other tenants.

A fireplace is set into one of the walls on the noble floor. A bench, visible on the right in the photograph below, accommodates two people. Another bench, which sits opposite the double bench, accommodates one person. This single-seat bench is for the "chaperone," who customarily watches over unwed couples.

The fireplace.

There are many unique features in the home.

The stainglass above the doors, for example,
was designed to let light and color in on one side...

...but to appear as an entirely separate colorless object of art on the other.

The ceiling has an elaborate design resembling a shell.

The large windows in the main room of the noble floor make you feel as though you are swimming in a fish tank. Each of the window panes is counterweighted and slides open vertically, allowing for an expansive, open-air, panoramic view of the street below.

The large window is the most impressive feature of the home.

The handles on the windows were designed to easily conform to the hand.

Gaudí was big on ventilation. He incorporated slats into windows and doorways that could be opened to varying degrees. This enabled residents to adjust for temperature and circulation of fresh air.

Ventilation slats at the base of the big window.

The main room used to have a large armoire on the wall opposite the windows. Opening the doors revealed an alter that the Batlló family could use for prayers. The alterpiece has been restored and is now used in the crypt at Gaudí's Sagrada Familia church.

The audioguide device shows the alter that used to exist in the main room.

The dining room is lined with wavy shoulder-high wall panels.

The nautical theme is continued in the private outdoor patio, off the backside of the building on the noble floor level. A fence on the patio resembles a fishing net, and mosaics on the floor are like the colors you would find under the sea. Mosaic caps on the walls (look just behind the flower pot in the photo below) are like bunches of flowers whose colors change with the seasons. Skylights in the floor (just next to the cream-colored wall in the photo below) provide light to the room below, where the motor coaches were stored.

The outdoor patio.

The Light Well

The light well is at the center of the building. At the roof level of the light well is a huge skylight that lets natural light flood into the building. Because light is more abundant at the top of the well versus the bottom, windows on the lower floors are larger to let more light into the interior.

The giant skylight at the top of the light well,
just above the cobalt blue tiles.

Three-dimensional wall tiles are interspersed among flat tiles to provide texture and to help distribute the light from above. To balance the chromatics with respect to the available light, the color of the tiles at the base of the well are a light pearly blue and increase in intensity to an eventual bold cobalt at the top of the well. This gives the walls a more uniform appearance in color as the eye is drawn upwards toward the bright skylights.

Looking up towards the ceiling of the light well.
Notice how the wall has a uniform blue color.

In an effort to bring the out-of-doors indoors, Gaudí placed balconies in the light well, giving the appearance as though they are external balconies. In the photo above, you can see that the balcony has a fishnet-like fencing, again playing off of the nautical theme.

Shoulder-high glass windows surround the stairs and elevator shaft, which are located in the core of the light well. The glass is purposely opaque to give the impression that you are looking through water.

The opaque glass makes it appear as though you are looking
below the surface of the water.

The door to each residence is labeled with a
letter (this door shows an "F") rather than a number.

The Attic

Similar to the attic in La Pedrera, the attic in Casa Batlló also incorporates catenary arches. What's unique about the Batlló attic is the horizontal slats in the walls. These slats serve multiple functions: to let more natural light into the attic, to make the hallway seem wider, to increase ventilation, to provide privacy (by preventing people on the rooftop from looking into the attic), and to prevent rainwater from penetrating the space.

The catenary arches and the wall slats in the attic.

The Rooftop Terrace

In true Gaudí style, the rooftop was designed to be a radical space of its own. The center of the rooftop contains the skylights, which feed light to the wells below. Gaudí left the space above the skylights open as a way to showcase the beauty of the Barcelonian sky. This open area is surrounded by a plethora of colorful structures, similar to those on La Pedrera.

A view of the rooftop at Casa Batllò.

Gaudí wanted the residents to feel as though each visit to the rooftop was a new experience, as the ever-changing sky and weather alter the backdrop of the terrace and the colors of the structures.

I love the juxtaposition of the colorful rooftop dragon scales against the sky.

A signature of Gaudí's designs is the inclusion of an arch on the rooftop. The arch on Casa Batlló's terrace is oriented in such a way that it frames and unites the building with another of Gaudí's works, Sagrada Familia. The church, however, is no longer visible through the arch, as newer construction now blocks the view.

The arch on the rooftop.

The cross-like structure on top of the roof.

The crown-topped sentinel chimneys, similar to those at La Pedrera.

I could have done without the crowds, and I think the audioguide could use some interface improvements. Regardless, I'm glad I toured Casa Batlló. Though the styles of both La Pedrera and Casa Batlló are similar, Gaudí's work is so original that I don't imagine ever tiring of his work.


  1. I am surprised you didn't get bumped into or even run over but someone immersed in the audioness. That may be the single coolest attic ever, and the rooftop has a fairytale quality

    1. Oh there was a LOT of bumping going on. Would have been a great place for pickpocketing, though the admission is a little steep for pickpocketers. :)


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