Building on the Art of Gaudí’s Barcelona

I really miss traveling to far flung places and as the world slowly opens back up, I am reminiscing about our last big travel, which was to Barcelona in 2019. I wonder when we can re-live that amazingly paradoxical, slow pace European city life in our apartment by Passeig de Gracia, filled with late night dinners, museum visits and encounters with all things Gaudí. In the meantime, I am delighted with old photographs and magazine articles that bring it all back.

The Cotton House Hotel- Best date night. Photo by Julie Kim

In this culturally rich city of Gaudí, Gothic architecture and delectable cuisine, I found Casa Batilló in all its Art Nouveau splendor to beautifully enigmatic, intimate and under construction. Not surprisingly, this UNESCO Heritage building is exquisite under any condition. It blew me away in its detailing and metaphorical references. The immersive use of technology at Casa Batilló captivated my kids and solidified Gaudí’s vision.

Even under the dust as in all Gaudí’s buildings, there was magic. Nature was often his muse and his buildings are organic and fluid unlike any other architecture before his. He imbued life into Casa Batillo and used numerous motifs of aquatic life and even the iconic Catalonian dragon slain by St. George (Barcelona’s patron saint). The cerulean ombre interior shaft of the building is blue as the ocean. The stairway resembles a whale bone as it glides up the building. An imaginary dragon sits on the roof and its tiled scales glitter in the light. The organic curves and intricate design elements dance in harmony.

So, I found it fitting when I came across Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS’ AR digital installation at Gaudí’s Casa Batilló in Architectural Digest AD. His works are whimsical and edgy, not to mention pop art recognizable through out the world. And because one cannot discuss Gaudi without noting his innovative architecture that is dreamlike and boundary defying, I have to conclude that Casa Batillo is really a “dream house” environment for Donnelly’s digital installation to be built upon.

Donelly worked with a New York based video artist, Danilo Lauria who was in Barcelona and had access to Casa Batilló. From there, the two collaborated in creating Donnelly’s iconic elmo-esque sculptures digitally passing through various rooms. The xx eyes of the cotton candy color statues and eerie music in the video mark a paradoxically different feel in the bright cheery space. Never the less, the synergy of these AR sculptures in this surreal building is viable. Donnelly himself professes to the sheer magic of this place- “It’s such a surreal, fantastical place. It’s just crazy to think of Casa Batilló being designed when it was being built. It’s just magic. ” AD

Gaudí was a pioneer and so is the way Casa Batilló is presented to its visitors more than 100 years later. Beyond any other architecture or museum tour (and I have been to many as an art history student), it was very immersive and innovative, utilizing AR (augmented reality) technology to transform the viewer to Gaudí’s imaginative world. An AR guide screen shows a glimpse of a fully furnished Bourgeois Spanish apartment along with ocean creatures swimming in the ombre blue tiles. The building made an indelible impression to my children as well because technology materialized Gaudí’s vision and his vision was so magical, bright and alive.

“It’s such a surreal, fantastical place. It’s just crazy to think of Casa Batillò being designed when it was being built. It’s just magic.” Brian Donnelly KAWS in Architectural Digest

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