Panel 4 

The Gaudí arches

“The paraboloids, hyperboloids and helicoids, constantly varying the incidence of light, have their own nuanced richness, which make ornamentation and even modelling unnecessary.”

Antoni Gaudí

The catenary arch prevents it from having to be reinforced from the outside to counteract the force it supports. It has a very special feature: it can bear much more weight than the rest. Gaudí discovered how easy it was to build hyperbolic paraboloids, for which masons needed only two rulers and a string.

The catenary arches allow for a large, open space, opening up to the light. He first used them in Mataró, then in the Palau Güell, in the attic of the Casa Milà and in the Colegio de les Teresianas. Between the arches, there are no beams, just the sill and, in addition, as windows and walls alternate, there are areas of light and shade which give it a compositional quality. Using hyperbolic paraboloids, he tried out what he would design for the Sagrada Família. Parabolic arches are a feature of Gaudí’s work.

In the hyperboloid, he saw a synthesis of light projected in all directions.

Imagine two balconies on the main street. If you hold a chain by the two ends, you will see that it forms a curve. If this curve upwards instead of downwards, it would be a catenary arch. To check how it would look, Gaudí hung threads from the ceiling from which sandbags were hung as counterweights. The strings were arched and, with the help of a mirror underneath, the image was inverted and catenary arches were seen.

The helicoid is a synthesis of movement. They are the simplest surfaces.

The Gaudí Family and Riudoms

That young Frenchman, Joan Gaudí de Auvèrnia, was widowed and in 1647 and remarried Catalina Esquer. Both women were of Occitan origin, from their surnames. Marriages followed one after the other over the centuries. Joan Gaudí Escura, son of Gaudí’s first marriage from France, was a linen weaver and married the Maria Oriol Giner from Riudoms, daughter of a well-to-do country dweller with property.