Gaudi in Barcelona, Part 1: La Pedrera

Posted on
Mar 13, 2012

Eat your heart out, Mike Brady.

I never really “got” architecture.

I blame Mike Brady. Supposedly an expert in the field of home design, he squeezed six children into two bedrooms. He was no architect. He was a sadist. And – hello – is it really a good idea to cram that many biologically-unrelated children into two rooms far at the other end of the house, just as they are approaching puberty?


As a result of all those TBS reruns I watched in the mid-80s,  I was put off architecture for years. I found it dreadfully dull, despite there being luminaries in the field with delightful names like Buckminster Fuller and I.M. Pei (names that are just begging to be punned into Ben & Jerry’s flavors. ChunkMinty Fuller? I.M. Pie? Someone get this, immediately).

But then, the summer after my junior year, I took a class trip to Spain. Part of the time was spent in Barcelona, home of Antoni Gaudi. And suddenly, miraculously, I got architecture.

And part of getting it was that I didn’t get it at all. This was not the boxy, bauhaus-gone-wrong world of the Mike Brady. No. Gaudi’s work was a nonsensical Baroque carnival. It looked like it had taken inspiration from a medical text dedicated to the anatomy of sea monkeys (note: if this actually exists, someone please buy it for me).

Despite all the madness, though, it made perfect sense to me. And I loved it. For the first time, I truly loved architecture.

And so, when I returned to Barcelona with Rand and his colleagues, I was determined to show them as much of Gaudi’s work as they’d put up with. We ended up visiting three of his buildings during our trip, and consequently I’ve decided to break up our experiences into three posts.

That’s right: three whole posts about architecture.

No, wait, stop! Don’t go click away. I know it sounds miserable, but it’s not. Really. It will be interesting. I promise. At least as good as an episode of The Brady Bunch. Maybe not as great as the one where Marsha breaks her nose, but far better than any featuring Cousin Oliver.

And on that note, let me tell you about our first visit to a Gaudi site – Casa Mila, or, as it’s more commonly known, La Pedrera (“The Quarry”).

La Pedrera was originally commissioned by a wealthy widow and her second husband. Gaudi’s intent had been to make the building an homage to the Virgin Mary, but many elements that reflected that were removed entirely by the owners (who probably felt that a bunch of statues of the virgin might cramp their newlywedded bliss) or were restricted by the local government. The resulting building is not as Gaudi had envisioned, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Notice the balconies: no two are alike.

The rooftop is marked by winding pathways and spikey chimneys. And even though the virgin is absent, it does feel vaguely church-like. If that church was, say, on Tatooine.

The weather on the day we were there was incredibly un-Tatooine-like, however.

The tops kind of look like Imperial Trooper helmets.

At this point in the post, let me apologize for the jumble of pop culture references I’ve thrown at you. I realize that I’ve jumped from The Brady Bunch to Star Wars in just a few paragraphs. It’s not my fault – Gaudi inspires this sort of madness, I tell you.

And the ceiling of the uppermost floor of the building almost looks like a steeple.

Inside there are scale models of many of Gaudi’s buildings, where you may pretend you are a giant on a rampage, if you are so inclined.

Note: The staff does not condone this sort of behavior. Spoilsports.

The lower floors of La Pedrera have been restored to how they were when the Mila family lived there a century ago. Still, it’s incredibly hard to reconcile that someone actually made this place their home.

At first, I was annoyed this woman had crept into my photo, but then I realized she’s probably somewhere saying the same thing about me.

Visitors are given a surprising amount of freedom to wander around and explore as they wish.

Everything has Gaudi’s unique fingerprint on it.

Even the door handles.

The entire building feels organic, yet stark. It’s like we were crawling around in the skeleton of some bizarre creature. Which, clearly, was where Gaudi drew inspiration.

At the courtyard on street level, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been swallowed whole by the building.

I could go on about how crazy and surreal the entire place is, but really, Rand’s facial expression says it best:

I couldn’t agree more.


The Essentials on La Pedrera (aka, Casa Mila):

  • Verdict: Highly recommended. However, if you only have time to see one of Gaudi’s works, I’d make it the Sagrada Familia (but more on that later).
  • How to get there: We were fortunate enough to be able to walk from our hotel, but there’s also a metro stop that’s just around the corner.
  • Ideal for: artists, architecture and history buffs, and anyone who likes to color outside the lines.
  • Insider tips: There’s plenty to see inside Casa Mila, so it’s worth a visit even on a rainy day, though the views from rooftop deck will be less impressive. Head over early on a weekday to beat the crowds (check their website, though, as opening hours vary). Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll have to tackle a lot of stairs (supposedly the building is wheelchair accessible, though.) Check online or at your hotel for discounts or coupons on the hefty admission price (it was close to $20 U.S. a person).
  • Good for kids: Older children who are given some context to Gaudi and the building will likely enjoy the funky shapes and lines, but very little ones will quickly get bored or tired.


Leave a Comment

  • This looks amazing! I can’t wait to get to Spain and see it for myself. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow! It looks like a building designed for another world…or where you land after following Alice down the rabbit hole…… What a fascinating building!

  • Emily

    I studied abroad in Barcelona and fell in love with the architecture, too! My art history professor took us to La Pedrera and told us that George Lucas actually got his idea for storm trooper helmets from Gaudí, which I think is basically the coolest thing in the world.

  • Mark

    I was not interested in architecture at all until one day I sat down at a table in the library at college to study. On the table was a book about Fallingwater, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The cover photo of this house intrigued me enough that I opened the book and started reading and looking at the photos. A couple of hours later I put the book down and I was hooked. I now am a fan of so many great architects. Never did get any studying done that afternoon but it was a life changing day.

  • Melanie

    I have a slight architecture obsession and I had never heard of him. I love when an architect blends a structure in to an environment, rather than creating a stark contrast to the environment. Most of the architects I follow would be considered mid-century modern, but I love this kind of strange and beautiful stuff as well. Thanks for the introduction to a new person to check out!

  • I loved your tour,thank you! I began my education in Architecture school and quickly became obsessed with Gaudi. My professors told me that one Gaudi in the world was enough…they were Le Corbusier obsessed…so I transferred to art school asap. I however have always admired Gaudi from afar and have been dying to take a trip centered around visiting his work…I can’t wait to see your next two posts!

  • Even the furniture inside seem to mirror the crazy, curvy architectural features. I love the mirrored wardrobe and the matching bed frame.

  • I agree…The rooftop at La Pedrera was one of my favorite places in Barcelona. Love Gaudi!

  • Verena

    I love Gaudi – thanks for the great pics – unfortunately I never made it into one of the houses, but I was in the Parc – I am crossing my fingers that one of the two posts will cover that 🙂

    Vienna has a crazy one as well – i mean beside me – and already dead – and an architect
    You know what i mean:

    one of his most famous buildings:

  • I love his work too! When I was in Barcelona last spring we rented a little apartment right across the street from the newly reopened Palau Güell… the lines down on the sidewalk were so long, but we got to enjoy the rooftop view for free from our balcony! It was amazing!

  • Have you heard of Friedensreich Hundertwasser? He designed some pretty unconventional (very organic and curvy) living spaces as well. The “Waldspirale” in Darmstadt is truly from down the rabbit hole:

  • I can’t wait to check it out someday, it looks seriously cool. I love your writing! Hilarious!

  • Moe

    I’ve never heard of this guy but that doesn’t surprise me. I’m in the middle of the prairie in Saskatchewan, Canada. However now that I’ve seen some of work? Amazingly delightful. Weird. My universe has expanded yet again, and thanks for sharing. You’re awesome.

    • Moe

      Somewhere in there it should have read…”However now that I’ve seen some of HIS work…blah blah. 🙂

  • Ted

    I lived in Barcelona for a year and learned that Guadi was the quintessential Art Nouveau Spanish Architect – called Modernismo in Spain. His inspiration is always from nature – the curves that were rejected in Art Deco make him so much more organic in his approach, and so much more fun to explore!

  • Love your blog ! I snorted up my fruit cup at my quiet and proper newsroom job because of this:


    Hilarious. I ‘m about your age and used to traumatize myself with VC Andrews novels as a young tween.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for adding Gaudi to my todo list!

  • Great post. As someone that LOVES architecture, it is always nice to hear about people being converted. So many building are boring that we need to really embrace those that stick out.

  • Joe

    Actually, I heard somewhere that those chimneys actually were the source of inspiration for the helmets of the storm troopers and darth vader.

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