«The temple as a whole, as well being a place for divine worship, will artistically represent the truths of religion and the glorification of God and His Saints.» A. Gaudí
Gaudí’s conception of the Sagrada Familia was based on the traditions of Gothic and Byzantine cathedrals. His intention was to express Christian belief through the architecture and the beauty of the building and communicate the message of the Evangelists. He achieved a symbiosis between form and Christian iconography, with a personal architecture generated via new but thoroughly logical structures, forms and geometries inspired by nature, with light and colour also playing a central role.
The meaning of the Sagrada Familia is communicated through the form and expressivity of its architecture and the iconography of its sculpture.
The various architectural elements are imbued with hierarchically organised Christian symbolism. Thus, each of its 18 towers has a special significance. In the middle is the tower dedicated to Jesus Christ and around it are four towers representing the Gospels; the books containing the life and teachings of Jesus. The tower above the apse, crowned by a star, represents his mother the Virgin Mary, while the remaining 12 towers represent the 12 Apostles, witnesses to his words and deeds.
From wherever they are seen, once finished, these 18 towers will be an extraordinary sight and provide a sense of elevation to the central tower dedicated to Jesus Christ.
In fact this verticality is a characteristic of the building chosen by Gaudí to symbolise elevation towards God. This is achieved with the rising pyramidal design outside, the loftiness of its naves, and the pinnacles on top of the towers that seem to fuse with the sky.
The life and teachings of Jesus are represented on portals of the three facades. Each one represents one of the three crucial events of Christ’s existence: his birth: his Passion, Death and Resurrection; and his present and future Glory. As the sun moves across the sky, its light further emphasises the qualities (generosity, harmony, or drama) of each facade.
Gaudí planned for the light inside the Sagrada Familia to be harmonious and to accentuate the plasticity of the nave, but above all to be conducive to introspection.
The branching columns, as well as having a structural function, reflect Gaudí’s idea that the inside of the temple should be like a wood that invites prayer and is fitting for celebrating the Eucharist.
To lessen the load of the roofing and bring light into the building he designed lucarnes or skylights in between the columns, based on hyperboloids, built using pieces of golden and green glass and tiles to reflect daylight inside. All the stained glass in the apse follows a plan of graduated tones to create an atmosphere suitable for introspection.
«The intimacy and depth is that of a wood, which will be the interior of the Temple of the Sagrada Familia.» A. Gaudí
«It is not a disappointment that I will not be able to finish the temple. I will grow old, but others will come after me. What must be always preserved is the spirit of the work; its life will depend on the generations that transmit this spirit and bring it to life.» A. Gaudí
There were many helpers and followers of Gaudí who collaborated with him during his lifetime, including Francesc Berenguer, Josep Maria Jujol, Josep Francesc Ràfols, Cèsar Martinell, Joan Bergós, Francesc Folguera, Josep Canaleta and Joan Rubió.
After Gaudí’s death in 1926 the construction of the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia was continued by architects and craftsmen who had worked with him, according to his plans and plaster models. After his death another of his followers, Domènec Sugrañes, took over and completed the construction of the last three towers on the Nativity facade. Sugrañes was succeeded upon his death after the Civil War by Francesc de Paula Quintana who worked closely with Isidre Puig i Boada and Lluís Bonet i Garí, especially on the construction of the Passion facade, following the directions and documents left by Gaudí. In 1966 Puig i Boada and Bonet i Garí took over from Quintana as directors of works until 1983, when Francesc Cardoner was appointed to the position.
In 1985, Jordi Bonet i Armengol was entrusted with the building’s management. He brought together a team comprising of Carles Buxadé, Joan Margarit, Josep Gómez, Jordi Coll, Mark Burry and Jordi Faulí, whose main task was to design and build the naves. In 2012 Jordi Faulí became chief architect and director of works on the temple.
Despite not being understood by many of his contemporaries, Gaudí developed an architectonic language that has made him world-famous. Today no one contests his place in the pantheon of 20th century architects. Gaudí’s methods continue to be considered revolutionary, a century after he devised them.