Modernist architecture beyond Gaudi: Domenech i Montaner works
Top Domenech i Montaner sites in Barcelona
Everyone coming to Barcelona wants to see the Gaudi sites. But if it hadn’t been for him, then the masterpieces of Domenech i Montaner would have been now famous all over the world. This now not so famous architect was born in 1850, two years before Antoni Gaudi, and in 1877 he was already a professor in the School of Architecture while Gaudi was still a student.
He was also very involved in the turbulent politics of the end of the 1800’s, always in favor of a strong Catalonia in front of the Spanish powers, and he even became a president of our region for a short time. So it’s not strange that his architecture reveals lots of Catalan symbology.
If you are curious to see the architectural works of this genius that missed international fame due to the impossible to beat competition of Antoni Gaudi, we’ve selected the buildings you shouldn’t miss, some of which we see in our Eixample tour.
These are the Domenech i Montaner masterpieces in Barcelona:
Hospital de Sant Pau. Twice Domenech i Montaner worked in sanitary projects: teh first time precisely in Gaudi’s hometown, Reus, where he built an institution for the mentally ill, then in Barcelona a more ambitious project. The medieval Hospital of the Holy Cross had become too small and dated to continue being of service to the city, and the donation of the businessman Pau Gil created the opportunity to build a large and modern hospital facility in what then was still the suburbs of Barcelona, just a few blocks away from where Gaudi was building the Sagrada Familia Church. Domench i Montaner studied the leading hospitals in Europe and designed a group of pavilions where the ill would be organized by disease (rather than being all mixed up, as it was custom at the time). The pavilions where decorated with gorgeous modernist tiles, which were considered a hygienic material as they were easier to clean than stone. The Entrance and Administration pavilion features also some gorgeous stained glasses. Unfortunately the project wasn’t finished, but the part that was completed hosted one of the most prestigious Spanish public hospitals until in 2003 it was moved to a new venue nearby. Get your tickets online here.
Casa Lleó Morera. This apartment building is part of the famous Block of Disagreement, that also includes Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Ametller by Puig i Cadafalch: the three competitors working side by side, pretty much at the same time! Domènech i Muntaner’s was built in 1902 and received the award to the best building of the year (you can still see the stylish modernist sign announcing that in the wall facing Passeig de Gràcia). As it was customary, the owners lived in the second floor, the street level was reserved for commerce and the other floors were rented out (families used to live there, but now they’re mostly offices). The main floor is now open to the public and the best part are the room with the balcony overlooking the street, and the spectacular stained glass wall that faces the backyard (from where you get to see the stained glasses of the other floors, by the way, that all together represent a tree. The building is temporarily closed until it is adapted to the current accessibility regulations.
Fonda Espanya. The Fonda or Hotel Espanya was a refurbishment of an old hostel from the 1850’s that Domenech i Montaner upgraded to an exclusive hotel in 1903. The architect was mostly in charge of the decoration rather than its structure, but the results were astonishing as we united with some of the top artisans of the time. As you go in from the street, to the left you have the hotel bar decorated with a massive marble fireplace with sculptures about life: from childhood to old age. But the best awaits for you at the bottom of the street level: a gorgeous dinning room decorated with a spectacular fresco of mermaids and fish. The rest of the hotel is embellished with marble columns and sgraffiatti in the walls displaying good wishes to the travelers. The place continues to be a hotel (a 4-stars), with a lovely rooftop terrace bar and a restaurant run by the prestigious chef Martin Berasategui, a close friend of the owners of the hotel.
Casa Fuster. This other building has also become a hotel (5-stars) although that wasn’t it’s original purpose: it was commissioned to be a private home. The works lasted between 1908 and 1911. Mr. Fuster intended it to be a gift to his wife (whose initials CF appear on a rose in one of the façades) and spent so much money in the decoration of the building that it was considered the most expensive in town: white and pink marble all over the place, over 300 capitals each one sculpted in a different way with flower and animals relieves. The street level was designed as a reception room for the owners’ guests. And it is said that a music quartet would play every night for dinner. Unfortunately, that was too much for the family economy and they had to sell the house in the 1920’s, when it became an apartment building. Later on in the 1960’s it was bought by the local electricity company Enher to become their office headquarters despite the protests of the local population. It wasn’t until 2000 that it was bought by the hotel chain that owns it now.
Montaner i Simón printing house (now Fundació Tàpies). This industrial building from 1881-1885 is considered to be one of the first modernist buildings in Catalonia, and the first one in the Eixample district to use brick in its façade. Domenech i Montaner was assigned the project, as he had already built a summer house for one of the owners of the printing house and they needed new headquarters. The machinery was installed in the basement, the main floor housed the public area and the books warehouse, while the smaller upper floor was used for the company offices. The company changed hands in 1962 and closed permanently in 1981. Six years later, the grandson of Domènech i Montaner, Lluís Domènech i Girbau – also an architect, together with Roser Amadó were asked to restore the building and adapt it to host the Tàpies Foundation
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Palau de la Música Catalana. Well, rather than visiting, what you can do is attend a concert there. Palau de la Música Catalana is definitely the top masterpiece of Domenech i Montaner: an outstanding concert hall that was built between 1905 and 1908, commissioned by the Orfeó Català choir. The construction was paid exclusively from donations, and built in the heart of a working-class neighborhood because they wanted to bring music to the lowest classes of the society (as the Liceu opera house was intended for the wealthy only). Actually, that shows in the huge sculpture that decorates a corner of the façade: a group of Catalan people from all the society levels singing together under the lead of Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia. It was also going to welcome any type of music: from the most popular and traditional to the one for the most educated ears. That also shows in the decoration of the stage, surrounded by ceramic muses holding a variety of instruments, some of them used for classic music, some other for traditional and folk. The acoustics of the place are amazing, and is also the treatment of the light. If you can’t attend a concert, join one of their guided tours in the morning and don’t miss the gorgeous stained-glass skylight over the main floor. Tickets sell out, make sure to get them in advance.
So what about you? Head to the comments below and tells us: had you ever heard about Domenech i Montaner before and are you planning to visit any of Domenech i Montaner works during your trip?