On Monday a short train ride out of Barcelona, in a north westerly direction, took me to another world: Colonia Güell.
As the western world evolved into the second phase of the Industrial Revolution the masses were making legitimate demands on improvements to their working conditions. This resulted in social conflicts including violent protests. In 1890, as a response to these unrests, the Catalan industrialist, Eusebi Güell, established an industrial colony, by moving his textile industry away from the atmosphere of unrest in Barcelona to his Can soler de la Torre property in Santa Coloma de Cervelló. This was a community fitted out with the most modern technology of the times. The workers’ houses, alongside the factory, formed an urban centre with cultural and religious facilities.
Different leading architects (Berenguer, Rubió and Gaudi) created the Centre Sant Luis (a cultural centre), the Ateneu Unió (a theatre), the consumers co-operative, the school with the school master’s residence, the secretary’s house, the doctor’s residence and surgery and the parish house as well other outstanding buildings.
In 1908 Gaudi commenced on the construction of the church. This ambitious project, which included two naves, one upper and one lower, finished off in different towers and ciborium, remained unfinished with only the lower nave completed and popularly called the “crypt” although it is not the resting place of any human remains. For the first time, however, this building includes practically all of Gaudi’s architectural innovations in one location.
Every element had its function in the Colony in a project that was cheap: the production of corduroy and velvet. The framework, however, was a model of society inspired in the social Christianity of the times and for the first time, the social and economic life of the worker and his family was guaranteed.
The textile industry ground to a halt in 1973 and the factory was closed down at that time. Life in the Colony continues to thrive with many of the prominent buildings having been turned into private residences. How unfortunate that those who love to see the works of Gaudí do not come here for his church (Crypt) encapsulates The Sagrada Familia in a much more simplistic and absorbable form. The pillars, the columns, the stained glass windows, just to mention a few features, are all here: a beautiful miniature, reflecting his creative talents.