In the same way as Casa Milà is better known as Le Pedrera (The Quarry), so Casa Batlló, another Gaudí masterpiece, has a number of alternative names in the local population. Some refer to it as the Dragon House, referring to the scaly ceramic roof tiles and suggesting that the Gaudí cross and turret to the left represent the lance of St George.
Others, looking at the rounded shapes of the main windows are reminded of a fully open mouth and have called the building “The House of Yawns”. Understandable, but entirely inappropriate for such an innovative and exciting structure.
The supporting pillars that are best examined through those yawning apertures have an organic flow similar to a femur expanding at the knee-joint when seen from below. Closer examination shows that the influence is actually floral, but “House of Bones” is another name that has stuck.
Even the name Batlló creates variations as ignorant visitors like me struggle to imagine how the tongue should tackle it. In fact the pronunciation is very easy when you know how, but for the non-Catalans you can listen to it here.
Between the bones and dragon scales there is another feature that adorns the exterior. A band of coloured ceramics in Gaudí’s signature trencadis that create an effect similar to a Monet painting, and there is more of this technique deployed in a multitude of ways to different effect throughout the building.
So striking is the exterior that it overshadows the adjoining Casa Amattler which is
another masterpiece of Catalan modernism, and I wonder how many of the thousands of tourists who gaze upwards in wonderment outside Battló each day ever take time to consider its neighbour. Instead they throng with selfie sticks and struggle to render the masterpiece as background to their latest timeline addition before moving onto the next photo opportunity. If they’re really smart though they’ll take the time to venture inside.
When I was young I read Roger Dean’s Views, the book in which the celebrated artist behind so many prog rock album covers explained some of his techniques and inspiration. (One Yes album famously features a series of clouds which were incorporated to camouflage the impact of one of his cats traversing his canvas). The final chapter of that book fascinated me the most however. Here Dean explained his plans to create a house for him and his family that was constructed from the same organic shapes that populated his imagery. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Until I stepped inside Casa Battló.
The tour guides tell you that it’s a house without straight lines, and though this is patently untrue you can understand why they share that view. Walls bulge, staircases meander, glass bends light to distort the views beyond. It’s a remarkable feat of design, but one that shows a great deal of insight too.
The central light well is sheathed in blue ceramics, but blues that change in hue to become brighter and more reflective on the lower levels where light is needed, and more absorbent to cut glare nearer the sky.
The loft space, composed of Gaudí’s much-loved catenary arches, was designed to house the laundry facilities for the tenants of the apartments within, and despite it’s functionality has a tranquil beauty derived from the softness of the curves and the diffused light which creeps in through gaps in the walls without ever being harsh and direct.
Similarly a pair of pillars stand by the doorway to the roof terrace whose function is to break up the light rather than support the roof, a charming fireplace for intimate conversation features a single seat on one side and a double to the other – providing space for a chaperone. Nothing in a Gaudí building should ever be taken at face value!
Gaudí’s genius shows its different facets in different projects; the Sagrada is audacious, Le Pedrera is practical, Parc Guell is capricious. The joy of Battló is that here you get it all in single dose. Even if you’re only in Barcelona briefly its a must.