The Sagrada Família and why we need beautiful buildings

One of the highlights of my Mediterranean cruise at the end of last year was visiting the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It was something I wanted to see because it always looked like an absolutely beautiful building in pictures and, it turns out, it is even better in person. I thought I would just share a few pictures that I took and some thoughts.

The Sagrada Família has a number of different sides (I show two above) each of which looks totally different to the others. But what’s crazy is that everything has so much attention to detail and so much going on. You’d be hard pressed to find a single boring part of the building.

One of the things I really love in church architecture is stained glass. You don’t see much of it in other buildings but the way it can transform light can have a huge effect. There are some amazing arrangements of stained glass in the Sagrada Família.

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Now, as far as buildings go, the Sagrada Família is one of the most beautiful in the world, so it is a little unfair to make comparisons with it. That said, one can’t help comparing how painfully boring and dull many modern buildings are. Flats and office blocks are the worst; usually blocky, rectangular, flat and with no particularly interesting features at all. This is due to many reasons, including cost restrictions, building codes and computer-aided design replacing architects. Clearly, not every building is going to look like the Sagrada Família but there should at least be an attempt to make something look interesting.

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In the photograph above, you can see three buildings that I saw when I was out walking in Vienna. Look at the building on the left. It is dull, flat and completely boring. But consider the buildings in the middle and on the right (ignoring that the facade desperately needs to be repainted). They are interesting, they have depth, they have texture, they have detail. There is still repetition but there is enough going on that they can draw you in and are (paintwork notwithstanding) pleasurable to the eyes.

This matters. An article on Aeon explains that boring buildings are bad for our mental state. More interesting buildings make people happier and encourage people to walk around. It might cost a little more or require changes to how things are done but if we know all this, we can try to fix it. Wouldn’t we rather live in a world of beauty than one which is dull and monotonous?

PS: When I was in Barcelona, I was also very interested to see the many political posters up in support of Catalan Independence and many examples of the Estelada on display. In fact, just the day after my friends and I left Barcelona, there were protests against the Spanish government.

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