I am 56 years old and have recently gained a Master's degree in Garden History at Bristol University. I am a Gaudi fan and have visited Barcelona many times to look at the work of a genius. I am very interested in Gaudi's work as a garden and park designer and creator. The highlight for me was the visit to Can Artigas and I recommend everybody should visit this beautiful and magical garden. It explains a lot, especially  Gaudi's connection with nature and the iconography.


Honourable mention - Category of Short Narrative

Gaudí the Gardener

Stephen w. Coffin

Fig. 1 Ruskin, Studies of leaves. 

Gaudí and Ruskin

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an English critic and social theorist who became a virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England during the nineteenth century but his reputation was to decline after his death. It is highly probable that Ruskin had a major influence on Gaudí in his political and social ideals and he was certainly known in Barcelona and to Gaudí at the turn of the century.

A leading figure in the revival of Catalan literature, Manuel Milà i Fontanals (1818-84), had been in contact with the Pre-Raphaelites, could have promoted an interest in English aesthetics and it is known that Gaudí attended his lectures.

Fig. 2 Plant sketches by Gaudí ,
(date unknown).

Also Güell, very much an Anglophile, would very likely have returned from business trips in England with news and literature.

It was in 1901 that the first translation of Ruskin appeared in Catalan with a selection of his writings in a cheap popular edition of L'Avenc . This was followed by a more extensive anthology in 1903. These two publications were translated by Cebiá Montoliu who was mainly concerned with Ruskin's natural history and geological interests, dividing the larger books into sections dealing with sky, mountains, stones, water and flowers.

Ruskin was also introduced to the Spanish public, including Gaudí, as a political economist. Sesame and Lilies (1865) was translated into Catalan in 1905 and into Spanish in 1907 and both Unto This Last (1862) and Munerva Pulveris (1872) were available by this time . These works attacked bourgeois England and proclaimed a positive programme for social reform advocating old-age pensions, nationalisation of education and organisation of labour. Unto This Last consisted of four essays that are foremost an outcry against poverty, oppression, the perceived heartlessness of political economy, post-enlightenment thinking and the emerging capitalism. The ideals that Ruskin held regarding the worker's welfare, poverty and the heartlessness of political economic decisions would have gained sympathy with both Gaudí and Güell as was reflected in their project The Colònia Güell.


Gaudí the Gardener

Stephen w. Coffin


It is interesting to note that Ruskin's most important writings on architecture, The Seven Lamps (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851-53) were not available until much later and even then Gaudí would have had to rely on a French translation. Ruskin's influence on Gaudí was primarily from his political, social writing and his love and understanding of nature. Ruskin elevated a personal and sentimental response to art into a statement against modernity. Like the poet Wordsworth (1770-1850), whom he greatly admired, Ruskin found in nature the stimulus to an untapped repository of emotion. He admired art that reflected organic forms and displayed artisan-style craftsmanship rather than academic technique. Through his many writings Ruskin turned the tide of public taste towards the Gothic Revival, the Pre-Raphaelites and other movements. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (P.R.B.) was founded by three young artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96) and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) because they felt stifled by the rigidity of the Royal Academy's idea of what tasteful, beautiful art should be. The P.R.B. held the belief that the only true great art came from before the sixteenth-century Italian painter, Raphael (hence the society's name).

The P.R.B. led the way to produce works based on real landscapes and real models, and intense attention to accuracy of detail and colour. Ruskin's interest in the Gothic made him a natural ally of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were coming under attack in the 1850s for their anti-academic art. This group aimed to paint from nature in a direct, almost naive manner, while depicting topics of deep moral or religious feeling and Ruskin championed its simplicity and naturalism.

Ruskin was able to experience an ‘awakening of the senses' during a trip to Italy where the light, colours and the architecture were like an exhilarating vision. On his return home from this trip he took up full-time art criticism and his first entrée into public debate was his defence of J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851) in the first volume of Modern Painters (1843). Critics had condemned Turner's landscapes because of their blurry abstractness. For Ruskin, however, Turner's vast skies and hazy, sunlit seas epitomised a truth to nature. The nature that they were true to was the luminous, soft-edged but grandiose version that appealed to Ruskin's sentiments. Artists such as Turner were of the Romantic period and as such were deemed to show an affinity with nature. Given that Güell was a painter of water-colours himself and both he and Gaudí were readers of Ruskin it is impossible to believe that Turner was not known to them and was appreciated for his romantic and naturalistic art. During his later works Turner became almost entirely concerned with atmospheric effects of light and colour, mixing clouds, mist, snow and sea into a vortex in which all distinct objects are dissolved. Gaudí's designs such as Can Artigas garden can be described as Romantic when the word is associated with the emerging taste for wild scenery, sublime prospects and ruins, a tendency reflected in the increasing emphasis in aesthetic theory on the sublime as opposed to the beautiful. J.M.W. Turner,
The Passage of the St. Gothard, 1804.
Fig. 4 John Ruskin,
Lake of Annecy from the Talloires

The writer Edmund Burke (1729-1797) identified beauty with delicacy and harmony and the sublime with vastness, obscurity and a capacity to inspire terror.

Gaudí studied nature very intensively and he tried to mimic nature in his constructions and in his gardens naturalism and the Mediterranean character come to the fore; the naturalism of these gardens is brought out as their very architecture is blended into the landscape.

Both Ruskin and Gaudí had a passion for mountains and it was during the reign of Victoria that all across Europe mountaineering societies had flourished. Ruskin had promoted the mountain-peak aesthetic but its pedigree went back much further. Its roots were in romanticism and a new pantheistic regard for nature, especially mountains. He continued to say that whenever his journeys brought him close to hills and mountain scenery he experienced infinite pleasure greater than any which he had thought possible and described mountains as full of expression, passion and strength:

...the plains and lower hills are the repose and the effortless motion of the frame, when its muscles lie dormant and concealed beneath the lines of its beauty , yet ruling those lines in their every undulation. This, then, is the first grand principle of the truth of the earth. The spirit of the hills is action, that of the lowlands repose; and between these there is to be found every variety of motion and of rest, from the inactive plain, sleeping like the firmament, with cities for stars, to the fiery peaks, which, with heaving bosoms and exulting limbs, with clouds drifting like hair from their bright foreheads, lift up their Titan hands to heaven, saying, “I live for ever!” 1
Fig.5 John Ruskin,
A study of Alpine peaks, 1846.

Gaudí had belonged to an excursionist society, the Associació Catalanista d' Excursions Cientifiques (Catalan scientific Excursionist Society), which was an effective vehicle for the popular interest in Catalan tradition and organised trips to seek out unusual caves, mountain peaks and rustic villages. This society served two purposes for Gaudí: the participation in the revival of Catalan culture and tradition and also his love of all that was naturalistic, especially his beloved hills, mountains and caves or grottoes.

A second trip to Italy made Ruskin a convert of the Medieval style. He appreciated the naturalism both of the architectural forms (cathedral columns rising like trees) and of the ornamentation (simple representations of animals and people). Gaudí also appreciated the forms of nature and his columns in Park Güell were fashioned in the shape of trees. Moreover, the cathedrals and monasteries of the Medieval world appealed to his morbidly Romantic understanding of religion. He became a proponent of the so-called Gothic revival that was the sweeping England, and his book “ The Seven Lamps of Architecture ” lent moralistic weight to his views.

The Pavellons Güell (1884-1887), also referred to as Finca Güell, and the Garden of the Hesperides was to be the first commission that Gaudí was to undertake for Güell and the beginning of a long partnership. The interest of this commission is in the gate design and the Garden of the Hesperides. The gate consists of an extraordinary wrought iron dragon which guards the main entrance and the garden. This dragon itself could refer to the legends of St. George but is more likely to symbolise the mythological Garden of Hesperides where the singing nymphs are watched over by a dragon. The garden contains pine trees, holm oaks, and fruit trees, in accordance with the garden from Greek mythology.

The iconographic apple tree is a particularly outstanding feature as is the mythical garden where golden apples grew on a golden apple tree.

In the legend of the Garden of Hesperides there is a dragon who watches over the garden with an elm (Ulmus), a willow (Salix), and a poplar (Populus), which represent the Hesperides, doomed to become trees for having lost the golden apples. The fruit is represented at the top of the pillar that holds the gate in place. Ruskin most elaborately applies his mythological theories to art criticism when he explains Turner's Garden of the Hesperides (1806) in the fifth volume of Modern Painters . He begins by explaining the significance of the Hesperid nymphs and the dragon, then comments upon the Goddess of Discord and the gloomy atmosphere of the picture and finally draws his conclusions. First, he explicates the moral ideas embodied in the nymphs and that they were perfectly fitted to guard the golden fruit which the earth gave to Juno at her marriage. Ruskin goes on to say that:
Fig. 7 The head of the dragon
on the gate of Pavellons Güell

The wealth of the earth, as the source of household peace and plenty, is watched by the singing nymphs-the Hesperides. But, as the source of household sorrow and desolation, it is watched by the Dragon. 2

The dragon, to whom Ruskin devotes the largest part of this explication, embodies covetousness and the fraud, rage, gloom, melancholy, cunning and destructiveness associated with it. Thus, whereas “Geryon is the evil spirit of wealth, as arising from commerce...the Hesperian dragon is the evil spirit of wealth as possessed in households; and associated, therefore, with the true household guardians, or singing nymphs.” 3

The last volume of Modern Painters discusses the Garden of the Hesperides as a painting that signals the approaching change in Turner's art and it is possible that Ruskin anticipated Turner's allegorical works , reading into earlier ones themes and methods of those painted later. Although Ruskin may have read too deeply into this painting there can be little doubt that he well understood Turner's aims and methods, and that Turner found in Ruskin a better interpreter and defender than any other artist had the good fortune to encounter.

Ruskin was , there can be little doubt, greatly respected as a peer by Gaudí and there are many similarities in their love of nature and beliefs regarding the state of humanity and religious feelings.

Garden Cities and Parks

It is impossible to look at Gaudí's most impressive and largest garden design, Park Güell, without an understanding of what was happening not only in Spain but in America and Europe, especially England.

The man behind the birth of the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), was born in London with no advantage of class or special education. He emigrated to the United States and before long made his way to the city of Chicago and arrived at a time when the city was recovering from the great fire of 1871 which had destroyed most of the central business district. Howard witnessed the regeneration of the central business district and the development of the city's rapidly growing suburbs. The American landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) had prepared a master plan for a suburban community where the layout was informal with spacious plots for houses with landscaped parkway roads. Olmstead had visited Birkenhead Park twice, in 1850 and in 1859, and wrote vividly of the features that he found there. He was so inspired by what he had seen at Birkenhead that he developed many of the ideas when he came to design Central Park.

Olmstead's design for Central Park, New York was to be for the first urban landscaped park in the United States. It was originally conceived in the early 1851 but construction did not begin until 1857 and was completed in 1876. The purpose of the park was to refute the European view that Americans lacked a sense of civic duty and appreciation for cultural refinement and instead possessed an unhealthy and individualistic materialism that precluded interest in the common good. Central Park was envisaged as a sweeping pastoral landscape, among which the wealthy could parade in their carriages, socialise, and ‘be seen', and in which the poor could benefit from clean air and uplifting recreation without the curse of alcohol.

Some of these ideals was not very far removed from the ideals of Gaudí and Güell and the concept of Park Güell.

In 1876 Howard returned to England and became frustrated by how difficult parliament found it to find solutions to the problems of housing and labour. Howard noticed that all parties were united by one issue, the continued migration from country districts to the already overcrowded cities. He witnessed the various attempts being made by industrialists to set up healthy, well-planned model communities for their employees, the most notable by W.H. Lever (1851-1925) and George Cadbury (1839-1922). A novel by the American novelist Edward Bellamy titled Looking Forward was to be the trigger to inspire Howard to create his own plan for a Utopian dream. He published his own master plan in 1898 called Tomorrow a Peaceful Path to Real Reform and described his concept in great detail using diagrams and economic argument but made it clear that the plan was to be adjusted to suit the site of the city . Howard revised and republished his book as Garden Cities of Tomorrow , as it is known today. A suitable site for the proposed garden city was found in 1903 and the estate was declared open on October 9 1903 and in 1904 the architects were appointed to oversee the project. The attempt to create a community blending the advantages of both town and country with pleasant environment, plentiful local employment, inhabited in Howard's own words “by a happy people” began and consequently so did Letchworth- ‘The First Garden City'.

The growth of cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution meant that urban planners had to seek new concepts. The proposal of garden cities that included the social organisation of communities also dealt with issues related to the landscape and architecture. Examples in Europe that led to considerable debate on the future of towns and cities included not only Letchworth but Le Vessinet (1856) and Saurupt (1901) in France, Hellerau (1906) in Germany and Milanino (1909) in Italy.

There are obvious similarities with Park Güell. It is different in terms of the approaches taken with regard to its structure, construction and above all the forms.

It is known that Gaudí was influenced by Joseph Paxton (1803-65) because of the drainage system he employed at Park Güell. The great plaza above the market hall was perfectly level and was drained, not by runoff, but by filtering the rain water through successively coarser layers of grit and stone. Eventually the water drains down through the hollow core of one of the market hall columns, a system first employed by Paxton at London's Crystal Palace and later adapted by Josep Fonserè (1829-97) for the Mercat del Born (1873-76), a vast market hall in iron erected near the Ciutadella Park. Fonserè came from the Riudoms and was an acquaintance of the Gaudí family subsequently helping the young architect on his move to Barcelona. Gaudí worked extensively for Fonserè. It was from this collaboration and the work carried out in the Citadel Park that Gaudi's eclectic taste and personal style evolved.

The other major influence by Paxton upon Gaudí would have been the designs and concept of Princes (1842) and Birkenhead Park (1842-47). The earlier Princes Park in Liverpool was closer to the concept of Park Güell inasmuch that Paxton's design combined housing and the park was intended for use by residents only. Princes park of forty-four acres was a classic Victorian example of ‘a serpentine park in an urban setting' complete with a serpentine lake and a circular carriage drive.

Across the River Mersey a private bill was being promoted to raise funds for the creation of a park with housing around it. Birkenhead was the first town to apply to Parliament for powers to use public funds to create a municipal park and for this reason Birkenhead Park is given the credit for being the first municipal park. The park opened to the public in 1847. The plan shows the proposed terraces of housing and some formal planting around the edge of the park, while the interior offers expanses of open grass, with vistas across the whole park.

Footpaths wind around the park offering a variety of views as Paxton wished to create a variety of landscapes and to achieve this on the flat site he created raised mounds and rocky outcrops where he planted trees. Birkenhead Park had a very sophisticated circulation system and near the boundary is a serpentine route for carriages. There was a separate system of paths for pedestrians.

The concept of Princes Park and the design features of Birkenhead Park are clearly reflected in Gaudí's Park Güell.

Colònia Güell (1882-1916)

The Còlonia Güell is interesting as it reflected what was happening socially and in the building of planned industrial garden towns in Europe and especially in England. This Güell Colony was to protect the workers from the violence and disease that was prevalent just twenty kilometres away in Barcelona but it was the curse of alcohol on the working class that most exercised the industrial magnates. It was also an obsession of Gaudí's to separate the worker from the curse of alcohol (the struggle to keep his niece Rosa sober was to mark his later years).

George R. Collins (1917-93), the American Gaudí scholar, wrote:

Socially the Còlonia Güell also holds interest as a paternalistic but utopian experiment in industrial relations. It was laid out with broad, regular streets, included a school and various social amenities. Its tone was strongly religious, and was commended by the Pope for its benefits to the working class. 4

There was also a social symbolism latent in the fictional paradise of the Còlonia Güell, because, in return for their ownership of a tiny plot of land and their miniature casa pairal (paradise house), the worker's freedom was absorbed wholesale into the hierarchical Catholic whole.

These worker's colonies were to be attractive garden villages with housing built for the factory workers. Gaudí was commissioned by Eusebio Güell to design a worker's colony and prepared a master plan for a development in the municipality of Santa Coloma de Cervelló, near the Llobergat river outside Barcelona. 8 General plan of Còlonia Güell, 1910

Gaudí, whilst primarily responsible for the design of the church, worked with his disciples Francesc Berenguer (1866-1914) and Joan Rubió i Bellver (1871-1952) on the colony houses and gardens, the worker's co-operative and a school. The textile colony was one of the earliest Catalan attempts to re-create the contemporary European model of worker's colonies set far away from the corrupting influence of the city. The site had been purchased in 1860 by Güell's father and from 1882 onwards it was quickly transformed into a worker's colony which was just twenty kilometres from Barcelona.
Fig. 9 Diagrammatic plan of Còlonia Güell showing buildings of interest

In Fig. 12 and on the general plan of 1910 (Fig 11) the main buildings of interest can be identified; the textile factory and outbuildings (1), the worker's houses and gardens (6), Doctor's house (7), the school (9), the theatre (10), Church hall (11), Convent (12), co-operative building (14), shops (15), the Còlonia Güell Crypt (16) and the Rectory (17) are all contained in this worker's community.

The Güell Colony boasted all the requisites for its operation to be called first-class. It had associations with religion, sport, culture and a well stocked library that completed the picture. In order to serve the religious needs of the workers the chapel situated near an old country house on the Can Sol estate was restored and refurbished by Güell but the rapid development and growth of the worker's colony meant that the small chapel was not adequate and thus Güell commissioned Gaudí with the project of a church for the colony. Gaudí decided that the best location for the future church was on a hill where there was a wood of pines ( Pinus spp. ).

The footpath from the Colony entrance to the church was plotted by Gaudí following a route such that, due to the serpentine bends and gradients of the footpath, it is possible for the walker to see the summit of the hill, the wood and the edifice from the widest variety of viewpoints.

The crypt was to be the only part of the church that was actually completed as work on the project came to a halt in 1917. The crypt does portray Gaudí's naturalistic thoughts as he designed structures and the way he would integrate these structure into their natural environment. The naturalistic forms of the landscape are revealed in the exterior walls of the crypt. Scrap material from iron smelting and hard burned or scorched bricks were used and the mixed colour of black and brown copy the colours of the forest floor and the trunks of the pine trees. Around the windows there is a green ceramic veneer which is approximately the height of the treetops. Above this are mosaics of blue and white tiles, like the clouds and the sky, and on the pinnacle of the towers there would have been golden figures to rival the beams of the sun. In front of the crypt door is a portico where, underneath the staircase, is found a small space with the form of a natural cavern which adds to the sense given of an environment not of architecture, but of geology. The interior of the crypt also has the aspect of a natural cave and this, once again, reiterates Gaudí's love of grottoes and caves. This garden-cave in the crypt was gently bathed in the coloured light that filtered through the glass windows giving an extremely relaxing, noiseless space that was also a little mysterious.

The worker's colony at Santa Coloma de Cervelló was most likely designed along the lines of such developments in England such as Copley, built between 1849-1853 near Halifax, by the mill owner Col. Edward Ackroyd (1810-1887) and the more notable Port Sunlight in Chesire and Saltaire near Bradford in Yorkshire. Saltaire was built between 1851 and 1876 and was conceived by the textile magnate, Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876).

Saltaire also contained gardens for the worker's houses, churches, hospital, school, a park and an institute complete with library, meeting rooms and a gymnasium. He built the factory and a village to house his workforce and described it as a paradise on the sylvan banks of the Aire, far from the stench and vice of the industrial city. Salt, like Güell and Gaudí, was a staunch advocate of abstinence from alcohol.

n 1845 Titus Salt made some observations about Bradford but equally the could have been said by Güell about Barcelona:

In the course of last week I have visited some of the most filthy and wretched abodes that the mind of man can conceive in which misery of the lowest description was personified. In a portion of this town called the Leys, there are scores of wretched hovels, unfurnished and unventilated, damp, filthy in the extreme, and surrounded by stagnant pools, human excrement and everything offensive and disgusting to ‘sight and smell'. No sewers, no drainage, no ventilation. Nothing can be seen but squalid wretchedness on every side, and the features of the inmates show a perfect and unmistakable index of their condition: all this to be seen in the centre of this wealthy emporium of the worsted trade. 5
Fig. 10 Port Sunlight Village in Cheshire

William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) founded Port Sunlight Village in 1885 on the Wirral peninsula. Lever had many similarities with Güell as they were both very successful business men. Both had a dream to provide a healthy and pleasant environment for their workers, both used different architects to design the housing, the streets were wide and lined with trees, both were religious and provided a church and social amenities. Port Sunlight was built along organic lines following the meandering creeks and inlets of the River Mersey. There was, in common with other garden suburbs that included Gaudí's design, a deliberately sinuous road system that broke with the grid of the industrial development and attempted to follow the contours and natural features of the land.

The squalor of the slums where the workers lived appalled both men and the guiding philosophy was that all men could improve themselves given a fair chance, in decent conditions. Housing was provided at reasonable rents along with schools, library, institutes and public buildings which the workers could use to improve themselves. In return, the workers would follow a life of sobriety, thrift and the desire for self-improvement.

During a speech at the banquet following the ceremony of cutting the first sod for the construction of Port Sunlight village, Lever said: is my hope, and my brother's build houses in which our work-people will be able to live and be comfortable. Semi-detached houses, with gardens back and front, in which they will be able to know more about the science of life than they can in a back slum, and in which they will learn that there is more enjoyment in life than in mere going to and returning work, and looking forward to Saturday night to draw their wages. 6
Fig. 11 Worker's houses and gardens in Còlonia Güell.

The houses on the Còlonia Güell were never more than two storeys high and inventively built. Intricate patterns and textures, based on Moorish models, were developed through the herringbone design of the brickwork: an entire village neatly laid out in a similar style yet fascinatingly different protecting the workers from the violence and disease prevalent just twenty kilometres away in Barcelona. The plan of Còlonia Güell (Fig. 12) clearly shows rows terraced workers' houses with gardens, large open areas for leisure and recreational purposes, wide tree-lined avenues, formal and informal planting of pine trees and an area called a pinar , a grove of pine trees. The plan also shows the site for the proposed church at the top of the hill in the wood, but only the crypt was built. Còlonia Güell was a comfortable place to live and had been described as “an industrial Eden.” 7

Text Notes

  1. Peter Fuller, Theoria : Art , and the Absence of Grace , (1988), p.30.
  2. John Ruskin, Modern Painters , Vol.5; p.396.
  3. John Ruskin, Modern Painters , Vol.5; p.403.
  4. George R. Collins, Antonio Gaudí , (1960), p.128.
  5. The Bradford Observer , 16 October1845.
  6. Part of Lever's speech at ceremony for the cutting of the first sod for Port Sunlight Village, 1885.
  7. Gigs van Hensbergen, Gaudí , (2001), p.137.