Sunday, 19 September 2004
Gaudi's masterpiece is 'virtually' completed By Michael S. Rose

Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is being 'virtually' completed for a new feature film.

(BARCELONA, Spain) — Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Church of the Sagrada Familia, is being completed for a new feature film soon to be released in Spain, and later in the U.S. The movie project was conceived by 38-year-old filmmaker Toni Meca, who spent the last five years “virtually” completing the extraordinary Barcelona church designed by the renowned Spanish architect. Gaudí (1852-1926) is recognized worldwide as one of the most original designers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. This church was by far, in the architect’s own opinion, his most ambitious project. It is also a posthumous testament to the faith of a man known as “God’s architect.”

Using sophisticated 3-D computer modeling techniques, Meca’s technical team, comprised of 150 highly-skilled architects, sculptors, and computer designers, have enabled the world to see the Sagrada Familia inside and out as it will be when it is one day completed. The reconstruction effort and movie are entitled Glory Day. Since 1996, Meca has been determined to anticipate history and present the Sagrada Familia as a finished work, because the real church, a vast edifice of cathedral dimensions (370 ft. x 280 ft.), will require another 150 years to complete at the rate that funding and construction work are now proceeding. “I decided to defy time virtually,” said Meca, who for 17 years drove past Sagrada Familia on his way to work each morning. “One of the most difficult challenges in my entire professional career has been, without a doubt, reconstructing and finalizing the magnum opus of Antoni Gaudí in 3D.”

The modeling process has been a long and difficult one, explained Meca. Copies of over 400 finely-detailed sculptures were executed by hand before being digitized in three dimensions and integrated into the final computer model used in the film. Meca utilized the same graphic animation software that produced the scenes for popular American blockbusters such as Jurassic Park and Titanic. To give an idea of the magnitude of the Glory Day project, Meca points out that while it took just over three million polygons (the building blocks of computer images) to recreate the sinking of the Titanic in that movie, designers used 35 million polygons to construct the 3D wire-frame model of Gaudí’s famous church for Glory Day. The life-like model is considered to be a major historical and cultural achievement in Spain.

My client can wait

“My client can wait,” was Gaudí’s genial response to his disgruntled assistants when delays occurred due to his constant changes to the original plans. Gaudí always acknowledged that his ultimate client was God, who he felt was in no hurry given the fact that the greatest cathedrals have taken centuries to complete. The architect wanted the finest and most perfect sacred temple for his client. His work ethic is embodied in the Jesuit’s ancient motto: ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.

Gaudí, known as a “neo-Medieval nationalist” in his day (and consequently loathed by the anti-Catholic Spanish Communists), developed a unique personal style of building, one that has become a defining element of the Barcelona landscape. To many Catalonians, in fact, Barcelona is Gaudí. His work is characterized by the use of naturalistic forms, and his approach came to be known as the “biological style,” a striking interpretation of the continental Art Nouveau movement. True to form, Sagrada Familia is known for its conical spires, parabolic arched doorways, convex vaults, and freely curving lines. As in most of his work, Gaudí has created the impression that the stone used was soft and modeled like clay or wax, rendering that sculptural quality that so characterizes his work. Critics have described the church as a “fabulous riot of fantasy.” At the same time, Gaudí’s masterpiece resembles the great cathedrals of the Medieval age: Sagrada Familia was based on the plan of a Gothic basilica with a large nave, four transepts, and an apse with an encircling ambulatory.

Gaudí himself directed the construction of the church from 1883, at the age of 31, until his untimely death in 1926. Though he began work on the church with a purely architectural interest and lacking any religious conviction, in the course of the next 43 years, he developed a deep passion for the church. He came to regard Sagrada Familia as a great mission. He became so involved with the church that he set up residence in his onsite studio and devoted the final 14 years of his life to this most important of all his projects. During those years, in his work as architect, he considered himself obligated to no one but God, whom he referred to as the “greatest master builder.” On June 7, 1926, Gaudí was struck down by a street tram on his way to the church. Three days later he died at the age of 74.

Faith in Form

With Sagrada Familia, the inspired architect wanted to create a truly “20th century cathedral,” a synthesis of all his architectural knowledge, using a complex system of Catholic symbolism and a visual explication of the mysteries of faith. He designed façades representing the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ. He also wanted to give the edifice a spectacular vertical dimension by way of an effusion of pinnacles. To that end, he designed eighteen towers (more than any church in Christendom), symbolizing the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, Christ and the Virgin Mary. The tallest of these, the Christ tower, will stand some 500 feet high when completed. To date, eight of the eighteen towers are completed. Each was built as a unique spiral-shape covered in patterns of Venetian glass and mosaic tiles crowned by the Holy Cross.

After Gaudí’s death, work continued on the church until 1936. These were the days of the bloody Spanish Civil War. The Communists, who hated all things Catholic, set fire to Gaudí’s studio, which held his notes and designs for Sagrada Familia. Many of the original blueprints were destroyed, but the project resumed in 1952 using the surviving drawings and models to continue the work. Today, the constructed part is open to visitors as well as the small museum that exhibits Gaudí’s original plans and models.

An architect saint?

When Gaudí died, the people of Barcelona popularly proclaimed him a “saint.” There was a great commotion. Even though the architect lived in a reserved manner, removed from the world, rumor of his sanctity had already spread. No newspaper, not even the most virulently anti-Catholic of the time, attacked him. The director of the Museum of the Barcelona Archdiocese wrote an article calling Gaudí “God’s architect,” coining the honorary title that would be associated with him for decades to come.

The architecture of Sagrada Familia is an expression of his deep Christian commitment, but is not without civic propriety. From the very beginning of the 20th century Sagrada Familia became an icon for the city of Barcelona, just as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris and Big Ben for London. After the architect’s death, the people regarded him as a patron of their grand city. Sixty-five years later, the unfinished church is still Barcelona’s most visited building.

There have even been documented conversions resulting from the architecture of Sagrada Familia. The most prominent involved two Japanese men. One is architect Kenji Imai. He arrived in Barcelona two months after Gaudí’s death. He was traveling the world over to meet the great architects of the day, but by the time he reached Barcelona, Gaudí was dead and buried. Even so, Imai was not disappointed for having made the trip. Sagrada Familia made such a lasting impression on him that, when he became a professor in Japan he regularly lectured on Gaudí’s work and, ultimately, converted to Catholicism. The other noteworthy convert is sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who worked for years fashioning statues on Barcelona’s cathedral, and eventually became a Catholic.

In 1999, the Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona announced the opening of the cause for Antoni Gaudí’s beatification, the first architect to receive such an honor. The Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the Archdiocese’s request in just two years. Such requests can sometimes take decades to receive Vatican approval. Commenting on the beauty of Sagrada Familia, Cardinal Ricard Maria Carles told a Spanish newspaper: “for me it transmits an evangelical message, very much Gaudí’s style.”

The city of Barcelona hasn’t forgotten about “God’s architect” either. Still considering him one of her favorite sons, the city celebrated 2002 as the “International Year of Gaudi” in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the architect’s birth. According to coordinator Daniel Giralt-Miracle, the initiative, developed by Barcelona’s Institute of Culture, promoted Gaudí’s work, including Sagrada Familia, both nationally and internationally.

The Mystery of Sagrada Familia

Although the new film’s 3-D computer model will certainly dazzle and delight the devotees of traditional Catholic art and architecture, only time will tell if the movie is as timeless as its spectacular centerpiece. Nonetheless the basic plotline of Glory Day, subtitled The Mystery of the Sagrada Familia, is a compelling one: To celebrate the International Year of Gaudí, the Mayor of Barcelona enlists a powerful American-based construction company to finish the world-renowned church. The company’s famous young architect, Jack, confidently asserts that he is able to finish the Sagrada Familia in as little as one year using a new revolutionary material. A political decision is made that the work will be finished by December 31st of the year 2002. That day it will be officially inaugurated in the presence of the Pope and other important world leaders. But while finishing the project at breakneck speed, the American architect stumbles upon a dark secret. Several murders later it is clear that everyone in the cathedral is in danger.

Meca stresses, however, that Glory Day is more than simply a film project: “It is a passion for the church and its architect.” The Spanish filmmaker hopes that publicity for the movie will generate more interest and support internationally for the eventual completion of the real Sagrada Familia.

More Arts and Culture
Using 3-D computer modeling techniques, Toni Meca’s technical team, comprised of 150 architects, sculptors, and computer designers, have enabled the world to see the Sagrada Familia inside and out as it will be when it is one day completed.

On account of his faith, Antoni Gaudi was posthumously known as "God's Architect."
“I decided to defy time virtually,” said Meca, who for 17 years drove past Sagrada Familia on his way to work each morning. “One of the most difficult challenges in my entire professional career has been, without a doubt, reconstructing and finalizing the magnum opus of Antoni Gaudí in 3D.”
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