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Casa Vicens

A more intimate Gaudí

By Brian Gallagher 31.01.18

What many may consider a hidden masterpiece and first example of Catalan modernisme situated within the Gràcia neighbourhood of Barcelona, has been completely restored in a project that has taken three years to bring to fruition. Officially opened to the general public from November 16th (with some restrictions on numbers) the former residence is now a house-museum that has been cleverly organised in order to provide visitors with a sense of the original work and the context in which it was designed.

The Casa Vicens represents a very different Gaudí from the more institutional projects for the Güell family or the iconic La Pedrera. In reality Casa Vicens is a multilayered project that reflects the changing fortunes of its various owners since construction between 1883 and 1885 when originally commissioned by Manel Vicens i Montaner, a wealthy trade broker up until the present day. A house that was doubled in size in the year 1925 with an extension carried out by Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez that mirrored the original volume of the house and included an enlargement of the garden (with a free standing folly) stretching to what is nowadays the Avenida del Princep d’Astúries. The extended building was subsequently occupied by three separate branches of the Jover family who acquired the house in 1899 from the widow of the first owner.

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    The main facade of Casa Vicens on C/ de les Carolines.

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    The main entrance of Casa Vicens has changed over the years, the entrance is clad with ceramic tiles with specially commissioned sunflower motif.

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    The main living room of the original house with fireplace and specially commissioned works of art.

    Commissioned originally as a second residence in what would have been the outskirts of Barcelona at that time. The original four storey house was built back to back with the party wall of a neighbouring convent maximising the remaining area of the 1,035 sq.m. site for use as a garden which included  a monumental fountain at one end. The Vicens family had an adopted daughter and walking around the house today there is a distinct sense of the domestic life of the original family that lived there. The spaces are small in scale and dense with decoration, the masculine and feminine bedroom suites on the first floor are interconnected by lobbies, a cabinet-like fumador or smoking room has had its ceiling structure of muqarnas (honeycomb vaulting made here using a type of papier mâché tile) restored to its original colour, indoor-outdoor spaces are accessed from living areas and bedrooms. Practically every surface here is decorated; the friezes within many of the living rooms reflect different local vegetation interwoven with Catalan sayings etched into the plaster. Every corner attracts the eye, but never to the point of saturation which could be due to the meticulous and daring refurbishment project.

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    En-suite bathroom on first floor

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    A new staircase that conforming to contemporary safety legislation replaces the original staircase of Gaudí's project.

    El reciente proyecto museológico y de restauración fue llevado a cabo por José Antonio Martinez Lapeña, Elias Torres (Martinez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectes S.L.P.) y David Garcia (Draw Office S.L.P.) junto con Antuñano. Su planteamiento distingue claramente la casa original de Gaudí de las intervenciones posteriores, organizándose en torno a una imponente escalera escultural de color blanco que cumple con las modernas normativas de seguridad contra incendios y facilita el acceso a la segunda planta, donde la exposición permanente ocupa todo el bajocubierta, la casa original y la ampliación de 1925. Este planteamiento hace claro hincapié en el proyecto originario de Gaudí, cuyas zonas de estar tienen un papel protagónico, mientras que el sótano y los espacios secundarios son destinados a biblioteca de consulta y tienda-librería en el sótano y un jardín con cafetería (catering a cargo de Hoffman).

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    The new staircase connects the exhibition spaces on the second floor with the basement shop and the library.

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    The exhibition spaces occupy the entire second floor.

    Este encargo fue uno de los primeros proyectos importantes que recibió Gaudí, quien por entonces contaba 31 años. Fue diseñado en el estilo orientalista, poco común en la época, con referencias tanto exteriores como interiores a la arquitectura árabe. La característica expresión formal de la mampostería por hiladas con franjas de cerámica alternadas parecen incluso hoy en día un gesto de policromía chocante y atrevido. El desdibujar los límites entre el interior y el exterior mediante balcones cubiertos, terrazas y persianas que comunican la casa con el jardín recuerda el programa originario como residencia de verano y, quizá el rasgo más bello de todos (hoy restaurado) sea la fuente con su celosía metálica de telaraña que refleja los colores del arco iris al contacto con el agua. La Casa Vicens es una oportunidad para que los neófitos, los fans y hasta quienes se sientan saturados de Gaudí, puedan reevaluar la obra de un auténtico maestro en un punto de su carrera en que su trabajo es inventivo, travieso e incluso tierno.

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    The fountain on the terrace on the ground floor with its sculptural metal detail that captures the sun's rays creating a rainbow effect.

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    Garden railing detail.

    The restoration was patronised by MoraBanc who aquired Casa Vicens in 2014.

  • Casa Vicens
  • C/ Carolinas, 18-24
  • Barcelona
  • www.casavicens.org
  • Architects: Martinez Lapeña-Torres Arquitectes S.L.P
  • Photos: Pol Viladoms