The Colonnade and Gable

‘Gaudí drew his design for the Passion Facade for the Sagrada Família church as early as 1917, nine years before he died. The Passion Facade is the end of the west transept, one of the two arms of the church plan that extends away from the centre of the church (the crossing), and at right angles to the main body of the building, the nave. When I say ‘drew’, this is a euphemism, as it was in fact a multimedia production of its day including ink, charcoal, pencil and gouache according to the accounts of his colleagues. The drawing does not survive but a fine detail photographic plate does. This has become the sole source of information on Gaudí’s specific design intent, although there are highly detailed ways of working with particular geometries, some of which I explore in the next two chapters.

The construction of the facade proceeds today as I write, but the realisation of its design post-Gaudí has occurred in three phases: several decades of prior study by colleagues based on site, scripted sketches as a means to develop the design rationale, and a mathematically driven fully parametricised design model. In this chapter, the story of the middle phase of ‘scripted sketching’ is explained in some detail.

The benefits of knowing Gaudí’s complete oeuvre in fine detail, and his working practice equally well for the last twelve years of his life, have led to an excellent apprenticeship in the amalgamation of analogue and digital design practice over my three decades of involvement. Post digitally I still start with a hand sketch with pencil on paper, even though my attitude to scripting is also resolutely in the sketching domain. Opportunities for design ketching using proprietary parametric design software are improving rapidly, but in 2001 when our design research studio began the design studies for this part of the building, such facility was not immediately apparent, and the relative facility then of the hand sketch prevailed.

In terms of finding a fourth dimension of displacement as per the nave columns described above, our starting material, the photograph of the original drawing, appeared not to offer too many clues. At best, through the powerful chiaroscuro effects that Gaudí wrought on his drawing, there was at least a 2 ½ D story to be extracted, as he had used shadow with good effect. The façade faces west and is designed to be viewed at its most compelling during sunset, and his drawing gives a strong hint of how the effect of the low setting sun angles were to be exploited. The façade as a whole had been thought through quite extensively by former colleagues, not least because the transept to which it is attached was completed in 1978 along with the lower half of the façade, the portico formed from six soaring inclined columns. Our challenge has been the upper half, the narthex, and my account here deals only with the development of the column prototype.’

Text taken from: Chapter 5, ‘Dimensions’, Scripting Cultures: Architectural Design and Programming, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, London, 2012

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