Home Arts We spoke to ‘angst-ridden’ Barcelonans who are fighting to prevent the completion of Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Familia

We spoke to ‘angst-ridden’ Barcelonans who are fighting to prevent the completion of Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Familia

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The Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s best-known landmark, with its crown of magnificent towers punctuating the city’s skyline. The intricate Gothic design has been modernized with the typical Art Nouveau pizzaz of its creator, the visionary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. With construction having begun 140 years ago in 1882, the millions of annual visitors to the church are often surprised to learn that it remains unfinished until now.

As for local residents, however, most are said to have given up hope of seeing the basilica completed in their lifetime. The project has been delayed over the decades, invariably by civil war, underfunding (progress has mostly relied on private donors), conservation, and lengthy permit applications. A completion year of 2026 – the centenary of Gaudí’s death – was eventually suggested in 2019, but that optimistic goal has also been thrown off course by the pandemic.

However, not everyone was disappointed by these interruptions, as the completion of the basilica is not received in the same way by all the inhabitants of the city. As anyone who has been forced to live near construction work for an extended period of time can understand, a growing movement of residents has grievances about the construction. Those who have the most at stake? The 3,000 inhabitants of a building that will have to be razed in order to realize Gaudí’s vision for the building’s grand entrance.

Sagrada Familia.  Photo by Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images.

Sagrada Familia. Photo by Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images.

An Ave Maria for the facade of glory

Gabriel Mercadal Prats has lived in the immediate vicinity of El Poblet with his family since 1982 and is an active member of the Sagrada Familia Neighbors Association (Associació de Veïns i Veïnes Sagrada Familia), a group formed to help local residents to raise their voices on the subject. Although he heard endless complaints from his neighbors about the noise, which Artnet News said sometimes continued into the night, “the worry, even the anguish, is not related to the construction ongoing, but in the final development of the works,” he said.

Prats primarily refers to a sprawling staircase that would complete the grand entrance to the building’s Glory facade on Mallorca Street. These steps would reach the street, allowing traffic to pass underneath, and extend to the parallel Valence Street. Gaudí imagined this structure long before the building was built just in front of the basilica, between these two parallel streets.

Desperate residents cling to the hope that they can save their homes, arguing that Glory’s elaborate facade was not even part of Gaudí’s original plans. Their argument, which served as the basis for a lawsuit against the town hall, is based on the fact that a fire destroyed the architect’s original papers. Gaudí’s intentions have been reconstructed and inferred from surviving photos, preliminary sketches and claims by his assistants, and the staircase in the Glory facade is one of the most controversial elements of this reconstruction.

“We can confirm that Gaudí’s idea was for people to arrive at the church walking between houses so that it would be integrated into the urban network,” Prats explained of the few things that can be verified on the Gaudí’s vision for the Glory façade. “The only aspect to respect [in that case] would be the visibility of the building.

Although it may seem tenuous, their argument already has legal precedent. It was first deployed in 1975 by property developers Nuñez y Navarro during a legal battle with the Junta del Templo, a foundation that oversees the Sagrada Familia. The developers won their case, allowing them to continue building residential homes on the site.

A year later, however, a new mayor took office and rolled out a new urban master plan for the city, which restored the understanding that the staircase should be built as part of the full Sagrada Familia, regardless the demolition it might require.

The towers of evangelists Lluc and Marc are lit for the first time at the Sagrada Familia, commemorating the completion of its construction in Barcelona, ​​Spain, on December 16, 2022. Photo: Marc Asensio/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

A neighborhood, not a theme park

Salvador Barroso Moreno, a lawyer who has also lived in the neighborhood for more than thirty years, describes the proposed sized stairs as “completely out of place” in today’s city. Speaking to Artnet News, he expressed vitriol for the landmark shared by many locals. “I doubt the Sagrada Familia is good for Barcelona. The city has other much more interesting monuments,” he said, mentioning Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Hospital de Sant Pau, another modernist building. “These have not received the same marketing and publicity as the Sagrada Familia.”

It has done little to help local residents warm to the basilica that it is now a tourist hotspot. Frustration at the overwhelming influx of visitors is a gripe resonating across the city of Barcelona, ​​which has seen rental prices soar in response to the popularity of Airbnb, less space on sidewalks and public transport, and the burgeoning activity of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops to the detriment of other endeavors.

The neighborhood of El Poblet was a rustic village when the construction of the Sagrada Familia began. “It’s been turned into a theme park,” Prats said. “We want a neighborhood to live in. Our opinion is that the only acceptable tourist should be one who respects local life and understands our beautiful city.

A tourist bus outside the Sagrada Familia.  Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

A tourist bus outside the Sagrada Familia. Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

An alternative proposal

The Neighbors Association undertook what Prat called “vindictive actions”, in an attempt to halt progress on the monument. Eight years ago, they attempted to propose to then-Mayor Xavier Trias an alternative, compromised version of the entrance plans that would reduce the width of a proposed avenue that would lead to the staircase and glory facade from 60 to 50 meters, preserving a large part of the surrounding dwellings.

Although they felt Trias was a listening ear, that all changed when Ada Colau became the city’s mayor in 2015. Prats alleges that the city council negotiated with the Junta del Templo without even consulting the Association, telling him thus giving the green light to continue. works on the basilica (including the Glory facade) by issuing a building permit in exchange for a financial contribution intended to help combat the negative effects of tourism on the area.

Prats said residents felt “isolated and resentful”, and shortly after another association was born, the Association of Neighbors Affected by the Construction of the Sagrada Familia (Afectats pel Temple). Barroso Moreno claims that permit is also what sparked the neighbors’ lawsuit against the council, citing that the Glory façade may not have been part of Gaudí’s original plans.

Sagrada Familia over the rooftops of Barcelona.  Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images.

Sagrada Familia over the rooftops of Barcelona. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images.

What next?

Progress towards some kind of resolution for residents was made in early 2020 in a meeting between the city council and nine interested organizations, including neighborhood associations and the Junta del Templo. The March 5 meeting established four key points to consider: respect for the right to housing, maintenance of public facilities and green spaces, control of tourism and completion of the basilica.

But the little progress made was quickly wiped out by the pandemic. According to Prats, the meetings never resumed after the confinement, “despite our insistence”.

Still, some hope emerged in the spring of last year when the city council reportedly called the two associations to a meeting with Janet Sanz, an adviser specializing in ecology, urban planning, infrastructure and mobility, and the chief architect of the council Javier Matilla. The associations accepted three alternative urban plans which were proposed as possible compromises between all interested parties, leaving the council to negotiate with the Junta del Templo. The council has since come up with a fourth plan which Prats says is “even better than the previous three.” He has not yet been able to reveal more information about any of these favorable proposals, which are confidential, but claims that they have not yet been approved by the junta, which has always been reluctant to make any comments. compromise on what she considers Gaudí’s original vision.

Any chance of a quick decision has been delayed by the upcoming municipal elections on May 28, which residents say will play a role in determining which interests will ultimately take priority. According to Prats, most residents are hoping for a victory either for Colau of the left-wing Comuns party or for Ernest Maragall of the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia). Meanwhile, Jaume Collboni of the centre-left PSC (Socialist Party of Catalonia) would be the worst-case scenario, Prats said. “His sympathies are with the maximum progress of tourism, not with the problems of the neighbors.”

Artnet News contacted Colau’s office for confirmation of the events described in this article, but did not immediately respond.

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