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Gaudi: A Biography Paperback – November 4, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The sinuous forms and lavish decorations of Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926) broke the mold in architecture. "His imagination burnt holes through the musty pattern books," writes Gijs van Hensbergen. "His gift was an amazing capacity to imagine a building and then transform it into reality." Gaudí's fantastical creations give Barcelona an appearance unlike any other city in the world. One of the paradoxes that informs his many-layered biography is that this most original of architects was politically conservative and profoundly Catholic, fired by the desire to celebrate the history and culture of his native Catalonia. Hensbergen, author of books on art deco and travel in Spain, devotes a good deal of his book to situating Gaudí's life and thought within the context of Catalonian traditions, particularly the 19th-century Renaixença, which sought to revive the region's language (Catalan) and to affirm its national identity against the Spanish government's desire to absorb it. He surrounds Gaudí, too often depicted as an isolated eccentric, with the friends and patrons who shared his vision, illuminating the architect's impact both within Catalonia and beyond its borders. (Admirers included the surrealists, whose atheism and radicalism were anathema to Gaudí.) Detailed knowledge of Gaudí's leisurely, wickedly expensive working methods and the complex use he made of previous architectural traditions gives us a better understanding of the unique nature of his genius, while Hensbergen's obvious (though not uncritical) affection for his subject as a man helps us appreciate "an extraordinarily creative and religiously charged life." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Gaudi (1852-1926) is the Catalan architect most renowned for his Sagrada Familia cathedral and Park Guell in Barcelona; both feature dripping organic forms that fascinate some viewers and repel others. Van Hensbergen (A Taste of Castille), a U.K.-based lecturer on architecture, was able to do his research in Catalan, an inestimable advantage for any writer on Gaudi. In 16 lucid chapters, Gaudi's life and work are examined, from his ardent Catholicism and patriotism to his celibacy, which resulted from a disappointment in love. The chapter titles reflect the architect's own high-flown ambitions, but the writing doesn't contain the flatulent prose sometimes produced by fans of builders and buildings. Gaudi's often combative dealings with civic authorities are recounted clearly, up to his death in a street accident involving a tram, and are reconstructed as thoroughly as possible, yet not elaborated on or fabricated, as many another biographer might have tried to do. The author's virtues of balance and good taste are evident everywhere in this book, making it a powerfully creditable testament to the permanent value of Gaudi's contributions. Work on Gaudi is scarce in English, so this is truly a landmark effort. The book will fascinate anyone interested in modern architecture and urbanism, Spanish art or the relationships between art, religion and social improvement. Color and b&w illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060935634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060935634
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Martin Doudoroff on January 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This biography is not breezy, light reading. Nor, despite it's unusually elegant printing, is it remarkable writing. It is, however, far more detailed and credible information and insight into Gaudi than one is likely to get anywhere else. I've been fascinated with Gaudi's works since a very young age. The construction work on the Sagrada Familia -- the bulk of which has been during my lifetime -- is something I have been able to measure my life by. That said, my understanding of the architect himself had always been quite vague and contradictory for the simple reason that quality information was never available (at least not in English). Until all the renovations for the '92 Olympics, one certainly didn't learn much useful about him by visiting his buildings. While the architectural sites have radically improved their exhibits, they cannot get anywhere near the depth of this volume. This book is certainly revealing.
One significant flaw in the book, however, is the complete lack of visual reference. I HIGHLY recommend that you have a visual reference to the buildings on hand, such as the Taschen book, when tackling this biography. The few photos here are mostly of people.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Outside of Catalonia and Spain, Antoni Gaudi i Cornet is mythologised as a sort of mad genius . The man, like his work is appreciated, but completely misunderstood. Gils van Hensbergen's intention is to present Gaudi to us in the Catalan nationalist context which formed him and his buildings. Yes, an understanding of Catalanism with its piety, spiritualism, chauvinist patriotism and family values is helpful to understanding Gaudi's life, but not essential to appreciating his work. Antoni Gaudi was a genius. Works of genius communicate themselves. That is all you really need to know admire and love Gaudi's designs.
As pure as Hensbergen's intentions are, the book is a failure. Poorly written, haphazardly organized and indifferently edited, Gaudi is painful to read and does very little to improve ones understanding of the subject. To learn about the Barcelona of those days, its politics and players and how they influenced the architect, read Robert Hughes' Barcelona: a magnificent book by a master non-fiction stylist.
Gaudi: A Biography is also inadequate in the descriptions of the projects and the buildings. Hensbegen never clarifies what happened at Poblet; how Gaudi worked and what his studio was like; that the model for Colonia Guell was for an entire church, not just a crypt; and most importantly how did Gaudi view space? Hensbergen never discusses Gaudi's mature interiors. He treats the designer solely as a sculptor--a former of symbols--not as a creator of spaces.
I was confused as often by the imperfectly written sentences as by the badly explained ideas. The chronology is a muddle. Dates are even mistyped. Names pile up without clear explanation of who they are or why they are being mentioned. And the endnotes...! They are confounding digressions which clarify nothing.Without beauty, rationality and solid construction, this book is wholely unworthy of its subject.
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Format: Hardcover
My title is a quote from Gaudi himself and it is only something a genius could say. Like Bach claiming his work was 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. What clearly comes through in this book is that Gaudi was an extraordinary man - a creator of unique structures and visions.
I have always felt a fascination with things that seem to have some unexpected, almost alien, aspect to them. In architecture this includes the temples at Angkor and the Hindu temples of India; are these the works of humankind? So it is with Gaudi. Where are the precursors? Where are the followers? Perhaps there are no followers because what he did was so exceptional no-one dares takes the same path. And then there is the man Gaudi as described in this book - he is no less alien; banishing intimacy with women from his life, being absorbed in catholicism, following a rigorous vegetarian diet. I didn't want speculation - I hate that in biographies - but I would have liked more information. For example, why was Gaudi a vegetarian - was it a religious tenet he was following, was it a moral one, was it health-driven?
Other reviewers have been disturbed by Mr Hensbergens command of the English language. This did not offend me. Perhaps the paperback version I am reviewing had been further edited. But I did find the book slow to capture my attention. Perhaps it was Gaudi and not the prose that finally engaged me - but engaged I was. Another feature that initially annoyed me was the placing of the four sections of illustrations. It seemed to me that I was forever hunting for an illustration for the text I was reading. But by the end of the biography this didn't offend me at all; in fact I grew to love hunting back and forth through the illustrations because as I did so I grew to know Gaudi's architecture better and better.
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Format: Paperback
I have been obessed with Gaudi from the first minute I landed in Spain a month ago. I have been to msot of his major works and am finding my way to his lesser. This book has been an amazing companion to the journey. It is amazing to sit and read about Park Guell while sitting in Park Guell. The author gives you the entire story of each work, and the social, political, and economical contexts that surrounded Gaudi's works and life. I read the book at fast I as could and now am reading it again. If you want to learn not just about Gaudi but the Modernisme movement and the socio-politics of turn-of-the-century Spain, there is no better book than this one.
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