For the better part of a century, Barcelona has been grappling with the ruinous presence of the Sagrada Família, what was meant to be the city’s crowning monument. Of course, the basilica, designed by the famous Catalan engineer-architect Antoni Gaudí, is not actually a ruin but rather a construction site (and a bustling one at that). Millions of tourists visit the uncompleted church every year, yet much of what they see today will be altered when work concludes in 2026.
A new video, released by the Sagrada Família Foundation, illustrates what some of those changes might look like. Combining helicopter footage with computer-animated renderings, the structure’s final stages take shape before you eyes. Spires shoot up in succession, the central cupola rises into view, and the Glory facade--the church’s principal entrance as outlined by Gaudí--materializes out of thin air.
The renderings are convincing enough to give an accurate vision of Sagrada Família will look like 13 years hence, when the church is scheduled to open its doors. The date is anything but coincidental and intended to mark the centennial anniversary of Gaudí’s death. At the time of his passing in 1926, the architect was neck deep in the project, which was then only a quarter finished. Much of the details had yet to be worked out, and looting following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, left nearly all of the master’s drawings and, more devasting, his huge scaled models in tatters. Gaudí, however, did leave behind a kind of system of geometric-based rules that have been crucial to executing the rest of the Neo-Gothic church.
That process has been overseen by architect Jordi Bonet, whose father had worked under Gaudí himself. Since his appointment in the mid-'80s, Bonet has introduced, via researchers and parametric architects, computer-based construction techniques like CNC-milled stone and 3-D scanning that have greatly accelerated the project’s timeline and built the recently completed nave. He has also directed the necessary design decisions and detailing that Gaudí left blank--liberties that Bonet has said remain faithful to the architect’s procedures but which others have greatly criticized.
In person, the discontinuities between the original structure and subsequent additions are clearly delineated. Where the former bears dark stone cladding, the latter is nearly white. These contrasts, however, are absent in the video, where the new constructions assume the mud-like appearance of the Nativity facade completed by Gaudí. This ties the church’s fragmented pieces into one unified composition, offering up something close to what Bonet and his team think Gaudí had envisioned.
But is what Gaudí wanted even matter? In my opinion, yes and no. He knew he would never see the completion of his late life's work and planned (somewhat) accordingly. The contemporary interventions, however, aren't particularly successful, lacking much of the painstaking detail, craft, and weepy expressionism that the name Gaudí has come to stand for.