Architectural biomimicry ?
Welcome to the captivating world where architecture and nature converge, blend, and create wonders.
Picture buildings that, instead of merely occupying space, draw inspiration from the surrounding natural world, effortlessly harmonizing with it. This is where the enchanting concept of biomimicry takes center stage. Trees become artistic guides, engineers, and even architects.
In this series, brace yourself for a captivating journey into the heart of European architecture, where visionary architects find inspiration in trees, turning their creations into temples that not only respect but also draw inspiration from the beauty of nature.
Today's destination? The Sagrada Familia, where nature and human ingenuity gracefully converge in an exquisite architectural dance. Get ready to be amazed by how biomimicry effortlessly transforms our built spaces into true works of art.
The Sagrada Familia
An unfinished masterpiece
The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who began working on the project in 1882 designed the Sagrada Familia.
Construction started in 1884, and although Gaudí did not live to see its completion, his innovative vision laid the foundation for one of the most iconic structures in the world.
When finished, the Sagrada Familia will be crowned with a total of 18 towers. These towers, ranging in height from 90 to 120 meters, represent the 12 apostles along the three facades, with four towers dedicated to the four evangelists. These towers surround the main tower, which will peak at 170 meters in honor of Jesus Christ. Lastly, the final tower, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be erected above the semi-circular apse.
After Gaudí's passing in 1926, the construction faced slowdowns due to financial constraints and the Spanish Civil War. The project regained momentum in the mid-1950s. In the year 2000, the roof of the central nave was finally installed.
The Sagrada Familia is unique, largely due to Antoni Gaudí's continuous improvisational approach during construction. With few available plans and models, Gaudí often worked in the moment, letting his creativity guide the process. Although this created challenges for contemporary architects, they nonetheless understand Gaudí's intentions.
A symbol of spirituality
Beyond the architectural beauty of the monument, the Sagrada Familia transcends the material world to connect with the spiritual realm. Each architectural element carries significance.
The 12 towers distributed across each facade represent the 12 apostles. Currently, 8 of these towers, ranging between 98 and 120 meters, have been completed, embodying the greatness of Jesus' disciples.
At the heart of this celestial constellation, 6 towers rise pyramidally, symbolizing spirituality and reaching their peak with the towering Jesus Christ tower at 172.5 meters. Around it, the 4 towers dedicated to the evangelists (Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke) add to the splendor, while the last tower at 138 meters, dedicated to the Mare de Déu (Virgin Mary), completes this magnificent work.
The expiatory temple, paying homage to the Holy Family through its three facades, is a profoundly spiritual symbol.
The Nativity facade celebrates the joy and life of Jesus, depicting his birth and youth.
In contrast, the Passion facade adopts an austere aesthetic, narrating the passion, death, and resurrection. Finally, the Glory facade, facing the sea, embodies the glory of Jesus Christ and the path to eternal life, featuring unique symbolic elements.
"People from all over the world will come to see what we are doing." - Gaudí
More than a century later, the numbers confirm the architect's words: in recent years, over four million people visit the temple annually (and around twenty million admire it from the outside).
As predicted by the architect, they come from all over the world. These figures propelled the Sagrada Familia to the position of the most visited monument in Spain in 2019, according to the ranking established by the travel platform TripAdvisor, and to the sixth position globally, alongside the Colosseum in Rome, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Vatican Museums.
... an example of biomimicry
A forest at the heart of the monument ?
When Gaudí shaped the Sagrada Familia, he deliberately avoided right angles, opting instead for an aesthetic inspired by nature.
The columns resemble tree trunks, inviting visitors to venture into the heart of a metaphorical forest. Their branches create an illusion of a lush canopy, reminiscent of a palm grove. Two subtle pillars are supported by sculptures representing two turtles, symbolizing terrestrial stability and marine fluidity, respectively. Every architectural detail, from spiral staircases to catenary arches, reflects a harmony between human creativity and inspiration drawn from nature.
Thus, the Sagrada Familia evokes a magnificent forest through its impressive columns.
This design appears to be a celebration of nature and its divine creations. Gaudí transports visitors into an environment where architecture mimics the organic beauty of nature.
By embracing this woodland aesthetic, the Sagrada Familia becomes a work of art that transcends conventions, offering an immersive experience where the boundaries between the sacred and the natural harmoniously blur.
The magic of twisting
It was necessary to equip the Sagrada Familia with columns that had never been seen before in the architectural field. To achieve this, Gaudí chose double-twisted columns. Interestingly, this kind of double twist is found in some plants such as the oleander (Nerium oleander) and the abelia (Abelia chinensis).
The leaves of these plants grow in levels, each comprising three leaves. In their quest for sunlight, they move into the space left by the upper leaves, causing a helical twist in the core of the branch. Cutting a branch reveals two underlying geometric shapes: the equilateral triangle and the hexagon, created by the twisting according to the principles of the double-twisted column.
The columns of the Narthex : the Passion facade
Gaudí draws inspiration from the majestic nature of iconic trees in Central America.
The kapoks, with their tabular roots, and the California sequoias, characterized by ribbed structures, have guided the design of the columns in the narthex of the Passion facade.
Similar to these imposing trees, the basilica's columns feature extended bases, ensuring a harmonious structural balance.
The inclined columns of the narthex of the Sagrada Familia reveal Gaudí's ingenuity as he transposes the natural principles of giant sequoias into his architecture.
With broad bases inspired by the extended roots of these monumental trees, the columns not only ensure stability but also effectively transfer the inclined forces to the foundations.
Thus, Gaudí merges his architectural genius with the teachings of nature, creating a unique and functional tribute in this essential element of the basilica.
The school's roof
In his constant quest for innovation, Gaudí revolutionized the design of the Sagrada Familia school's roof.
Contrary to the norms of the time that favored traditional sloping roofs, he opted for an innovative approach by creating a undulating roof.
Inspired by nature, Gaudí introduced a harmonious alternation of peaks and troughs on each facade, thus uniting functionality and aesthetics.
The undulating roof of the Sagrada Familia school, designed by Gaudí, reflects a natural elegance inspired by the magnolia. Like the leaves of this majestic tree, the wavy edges of the roof serve not only to create a distinctive aesthetic but also to facilitate the drainage of rainwater.
This ingenious design bears witness to Gaudí's creative imprint, drawing from natural patterns to transcend the architectural conventions of his time.
The continuation of this series coming soon !
Up next: A journey into the heart of Sou Fujimoto's House of Music in Budapest."
In our series on 'Biomimicry':
Article by Clémence from the Run for Planet team.
To find her : linkedin.com