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Sunday, June 7, 2015

La Casa Mila

La Casa Mila or la Pedrera courtyard from above.
La Casa Mila from the street.
On our recent whirlwind march inland from the Mediterranean to Paris, we spent two nights in Barcelona. This was not our first trip to the city. In 2001 we'd visited the narrow corridor from the airport to the seaport and back. That's barely enough for a first impression. This time I had the better part of two days to take a closer look at the city and particularly two architectural works by the Spanish turn-of-the-century architect, Antonio Gaudi. I wanted to see his famous Sagrada Familia church and his brilliant, Art Nouveau, apartment complex, la Casa Mila (known more commonly to the locals as La Pedrera--the stone quarry). If you're visiting, keep in mind it may be listed on maps either way. There's much more to see in Barcelona than that but we were on a tight schedule and in any case, could not have done justice to any attractions if we'd included other attractions.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Casa Mila floor plan
Copyright, Jim Lane
La Casa Mila's sculptural roof ornamentation
disguised two elevators and several chimneys.
We in the 21st-century are somewhat accustomed to seeing radical architecture, and even today, Casa Mila would appear to fit easily into that category. Imagine then, what the Barcelonans must have felt and thought around 1906-10 when Antonio Gaudi's apartment house and home for the wealthy businessman, Pere Mila and his wife, Roser, began to take shape. The style was called Art Nouveau and Gaudi was not exactly an unknown entity at the time. His Casa Batllo on the same street (Passeig de Gràcia) dated from as early as 1877. However, it was Romantic in style, only slightly resembling the new Mila home with its wavy lines and impressive height, not to mention a undulating roofline (top) topped with whimsical sculptural chimneys (right) unlike anything imaginable at the time (top). In fact, the floor plan (above) reveals there was hardly a rectangular room in the entire building. With its seven floors, six of which containing four spacious, luxury apartments, (plus a huge attic and underground parking garage) Pere Mila was getting his (wife's) money's worth.

La Casa Mila's interior details.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The expressive curves and arches of
Gaudi's Casa Mila roofline highlights his
other major contribution to Barcelona's
skyline (still under construction).
Gaudi's radical new Art Nouveau styling did not stop with the sweeping and swooping of his carved stone façade. Two well-like open air courtyards brought an airy lightness to even the interior rooms of each apartment (two apartments shared an elevator and stairwells). Even the attic (or perhaps, especially the attic) was radical, its hyperbolic arches resembling the ribs of a giant whale, except that they were made from shaped bricks (above). Whereas most roofs are treated by architects as necessary nuisances of no other function than not leaking, Gaudi's Casa Mila roof more nearly resembles rolling hills or ocean waves, a delightful fantasy experience in and of themselves, not to mention an impressive view of the Barcelona skyline. Today, only one apartment is open to the public. The rest of the building serves as office space for the organization owning and managing the structure. The single apartment presents some fascinating anachronisms as the Victorian furniture tries to appear comfortable inside curvilinear rooms that even today, would present an interior decorator with some vexing problems.(Gaudi custom designed Art Nouveau style furniture for the Mila's apartment.)

La Casa Mila dining room...a clashing of old and new.
The Mila living room--where to put the Steinway.
Even before the house was completed, Mila's wife complained to Gaudi that without straight walls, she had nowhere to place her much beloved grand piano (which she played exceedingly well). Gaudi's reaction was typical: "So, play the violin." The Milas occupied the ground floor of the building with the upper levels carved (an exceedingly accurate term) into some twenty surprisingly large apartments. The attic contained the laundry and storage space. Today it features an insightful museum display of architectural models, drawings, and historic photos of the building. Tickets are 27 euros (roughly $30.) and best ordered online to avoid waiting in line.

The Casa Mila kitchen--modern for its day but still in need of a cook and butler.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Each apartment had a single bathroom.
(not available to tourists).


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