Casa Milà is one of the most emblematic buildings from the beginning of the 20th century in Barcelona. Built between 1906 and 1910, Casa Milà occupies an entire corner of the Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s Eixample. The wealthy Milà family, who wanted to move to Passeig de Gràcia like most comfortably-off bourgeois families at the start of the 20th century, gave Antoni Gaudí the perfect opportunity to bring to fruition one of his most complete works.
The «Stone Quarry»
Also wide known as La Pedrera (Catalan for stone quarry), Casa Milà owes its more popular name to the controversy it provoked upon its completion in 1910. “La Pedrera” is actually a pejorative name given to the building by the locals who were amazed by the extravagant and gloomy appearance of its main facade. Casa Milà wasn’t understood by its contemporaries as it broke with the aesthetics of the rest of the buildings in the area, and it was object of criticism. Its unusual structure was the subject of public mockery and ridicule and were frequently caricatured in cartoons in numerous satirical publications of the time.
An illegal building
Construction of the building between 1906 and 1910 was complex and was fraught with financial and legal problems. Milà had to pay several fines because the building was larger than what the city council allowed at the time, which contributed to the downfall of the relationship between the owner and the architect. Gaudi kept changing his project as the work advanced. He went well over the expected budget and did not abide by the City Council’s building codes: the built volume was illegal, the attic and the rooftop exceeded the permitted maximums, and one of the pillars of the facade occupied part of the pavement on Passeig de Gràcia.
When Gaudi discovered that an inspector had been by to alert the builder, Mr. Bayó, to the illegalities in the building, he left very precise instructions: If the inspector came back and the column had to be cut, Gaudi would have a plaque put up, stating «the section of column that is missing was cut at the order of the City Council».
Controversy didn’t finished here. The Eixample Commission certified in the end that the building was a monument in nature and did not need to conform strictly to the municipal bylaws, but the Milà family had to pay a fine of 100.000 pesetas to legalise the building. They even argued with Gaudi over his fees and they even went to court over them. Gaudi won the case and the owners had to mortgage Casa Milà to pay the architect.
Gaudí donated the compensation received from Milà family to a convent of nuns.
An organic work
At the time, Gaudí was in his naturalist phase and at the height of his creative powers, so the house, inspired by the organic shapes of nature, has an undulating surface devoid of any volumetric rigidity. Casa Milà’s facade resembles the moving sea, the waves interacting with the seaweed-motifs on the wrought-iron balcony railings. The architect created an astonishing building, set out around two interior courtyards which provide the 16 flats with ventilation and light, a major innovation into the type of buildings that had gone before.
In the exterior, the facade of La Pedrera is not a structural element: rather than serving the traditional function of load-bearing wall, it is instead a curtain wall. The blocks of stone (numbering more than 6.000) are connected to the structure by metal components, thereby making the large windows in the frontage possible.
The large stone blocks in the facade are a type of skin that covers the skeleton of a building free of load-bearing walls.
The wrought-iron grilles by Josep Maria Jujol
The complex and expressive wrought-iron grilles of the 32 balconies of La Pedrera were made using scrap iron sheets, bars and chains in an unusual but remarkably effective accumulation that complements the architecture and provides a decorative element. They are regarded as the forerunners of the abstract sculpture of the 20th century.
The main doors facilitate entry into the buildng and exit out to the street for both vehicles and people. Large sheets of glass were unavailable at the time, so Gaudi fitted together a series of panes in irregular shapes, based on animals and plants, creating an area of small, protected pieces of glass in the lower part (where they are at greater risk of being broken) and larger, more luminous pieces at the top.
The roof terrace
Aside from the impressive decorated facades, another outstanding feature of La Pedrera is the roof terrace, with 30 chimneys representing petrified warriors that make an open-air sculpture garden.
The powerful religious symbolism Gaudí imbued the building with has given rise to various interpretations.
On the interior, one of Gaudi’s most ingenious solutions is the structural system of pillars made of stone, brick or iron which, by eliminating the need for load-bearing walls, made it possible for him to freely distribute the interior space of the floors of apartments.
Worth noting is the distribution of a typical floor, for its irregular geometry and its well-defined internal organisation, intended to make the most of the south-facing main facade. People circulate within the building by using the well-lit, wide corridors around the courtyards. The lifts provide direct access to the entrance of the flats on each floor. Each floor is divided into four apartments in such a way that each one has a section of the main facade.
The ceilings inside the apartments of Casa Milà are very varied: some are in high relief; others bear inscriptions and even poems. All of them are intended to continue the undulating rhythms of the facade.
Gaudi’s designs seem to wish to express the matter and forces of nature that have yielded to spontaneity. At the same time, they combine culture and tradition in the context of Modernisme.
Decorative motifs and shapes constitute a new plastic art never seen before despite the fact that it grew out of classical geometrical ornamental forms, from the simple circumference and its transformation into an ellipse to various spirals and volutes.
The cement tile floor designed by Antoni Gaudí for Casa Batlló consisted of blue hexagonal pieces with marine motifs. Gaudí did not use his distinctive paving slabs for this building like he did at Casa Milà. Now these tiles pave the entire Passeig de Gràcia.
Nonetheless, Roser Segimon, wife of Pere Milà, never liked the décor, including the furnishings, that Gaudi designed for their apartment. When the architect died in 1926, she changed the entire decoration, opting for a more conventional style. The rooms affected were the ballroom, the hall and the entrance hall —and their raised storage spaces— the office and drawing room, the dining room, the bedroom and the corridor. In addition, the parquet flooring and blinds were removed and 20 doors and windows were replaced.
Finally, in 1946 Roser Segimon, who by then had been a widow for six years, sold the building to the Immobiliària Provença real estate company, though she continued to live in the apartment on the main floor until her death in 1964. La Pedrera is currently owned by the Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera. The foundation keeps the roof and the attic open to the public, and there is an exhibition on Gaudí and his work. Some of the flats are private and the main one has been turned into an exhibition hall.
Exploring La Pedrera means entering Gaudí’s private universe, a world full of fantasy and impossible shapes that impresses every visitor.
Casa Milà was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Three areas are open to the public: the dreamlike attic space, with is brick catenary arches; the rooftop, where the chimneys recall the silhouette of warriors rising up among the dunes of the desert; and finally a period apartment.