Europe's largest modernist complex, Recinto de Sant Pau, by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, reopens in Barcelona after four years of renovations.
By Montserrat Barba Pan
With more than 380,000 square feet of space, the Sant Pau complex is a modernist city nestled in the heart of Barcelona. The architectural ensemble of the old Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau has reopened its doors after a thorough restoration to preserve its decorative elements and give new functionality to eight of its twelve pavilions.
Since February, the hospital compound has been added to the list of buildings to visit in the Spanish city, along with other architectural gems such as La Pedrera and the Batlló House by Antoni Gaudì or Puig's Amatller House, which will also reopen soon. However, Sant Pau is the one with most artistic value, not only for its size, but because it has all the characteristics of the architectural movement that defined the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Close to the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Cathedral, Sant Pau was built between 1902 and 1930 by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a Gaudí disciple and author of other emblematic buildings in Barcelona, such as the Palau de la Música, Casa Fuster and the Lleó Morera House, whose main floor was opened to the public last January.
Domènech i Montaner devoted most of his life to this project, which housed the old Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. It was planned as a garden city taking into account the welfare of patients, hence the deliberate use of color and light, both in paint, mosaics and stained glass windows, specially designed for therapeutic purposes.
The modernist ensemble with an area equivalent to nine city blocks in Barcelona’s L'Eixample district is Europe’s largest. A complete tour of the most important rooms requires more than an hour.
During the tour, visitors can stroll among sculptures by Pablo Gargallo Lagran, walk down the vestibule`s majestic stone staircase decorated with Gothic characters, admire the details of the Clock Tower or watch from its windows the central garden or the towering silhouette of the Sagrada Familia. The architecture merges engineering solutions representative of modernism—such as the hypostyle hall, arches and domes— with Moorish influences and the turrets and wall panels decorated with elements of nature.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, the Sant Pau complex currently hosts a Center for Knowledge and UN headquarters, the World Health Organization and other international entities. After its restoration, it will host cultural events, exhibitions and guided visits. One of its pavilions will be devoted to studying in depth the work of Domènech i Montaner, increasingly recognized by tourists who visit Barcelona and discover that there are other big names in addition Antoni Gaudí. ■
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