Incomplete but already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gaudí’s Sagrada Família towers over the city of Barcelona. Over a century in the making, the cathedral is expected to finish in the next 10-20 years.
In the form finding world, we’re often familiar with Frei Otto and Heinz Isler’s hanging methods, in which inverting a hanging model in pure tension informed the designer of the structure’s final form, which takes pure compression. While Gaudí is also known for making hanging models, a common misconception is that he embraced his hanging models as a way of determining the shape of his structures.
Gaudí did use hanging models to aid in the design of one of his structures– the Colònia Güell church; however, this incomplete project served mostly as an experiment. In truth, Gaudí was skeptical of the hanging model as a means of determining architectural form:
“Claiming that from the threads arise the architectural shapes is infantile, since they only represent a way of verifying stability, which one needs at a convenient moment. However, before stability, other things have to be satisfied: (space) capacity, lighting, sanitary requirements, etc.”
Rather than the traditional forms of Gothic arches, catenaries, or even circular arcs, Gaudí embraced conic sections and ruled geometries.
The result is the grand and awe-inspiring structure that we can visit today.
This post quotes, paraphrases, and takes inspiration from Jos Tomlow’s “Gaudí’s reluctant attitude towards the inverted catenary,” published by the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Author and images: Demi Fang ’17