City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

I’ve written several times about Barcelona. For me, in addition to its everyday sensory attractions, the continuing excitement of this city is derived from the numerous creative tensions between old and new; that this most modern of cities has at its heart the Barri Gotic, apparently unchanged for 600 years. A city of the most vibrant, fluid contemporary architecture is also a classic of 19th century city planning as well as a responsive, organic urban fabric – a living laboratory of urban form.

Image of Barcelona

Robert Hughes has written many more times about Barcelona, including the best book on the city, one of the best on any city. He sets up the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by writing about its heyday of modernity. And yet he too is drawn, even when discussing Montaner and Gaudi, to the ancient practices underlying the modern city. He’s written a masterful article, principally focusing on the age of progress the exhibition covers, and yet listen to him writing about Gaudi’s design process for a crypt for Eusebi Güell:

“What we have now is only a fragment of a dream. And yet its logic of construction, its sheer blazing inventiveness, removes it from the domain of fantasy and creates one of the world’s most sublime architectural spaces. How did Gaudí do it? Upside down, with string and little bags of birdshot: the infinitely laborious ancestor of computer modelling. Gaudí draws out the plan of the crypt, and marks where each column would meet the floor. He hangs a string from each point, and connects the hanging strings with cross-strings to simulate beams, arches and vaults, attaching to each string a tiny bag of lead pellets, care- fully scaled at so many milligrams per pellet. The result is a web of forces. All the forces in the web would be tensile, since string has zero resistance to bending. Now he photographs the model 72 times, with a five-degree change of rotation each time. And he turns the photos upside down. Tension becomes compression. All the angles of lean in the crypt are plotted. And because there will be no tensile bending stress anywhere in the structure, it can be built of stone, brick and tile by traditional masons – in a technology that hasn’t changed since the 14th century.”

The Guardian: Reach for the skies


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