Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona is a tree-lines avenue in the centre of Barcelona and probably the most exclusive address in the city, with some fantastic restaurants, exclusive shops and boutiques and some of the most famous architectural masterpieces in the city. Casa Mila, at number 92 is no exception and is one of two buildings on the famous Catalan avenue to have been bestowed UNESCO World Heritage status, along with nearby Casa Batlló – just a few blocks away and also designed by Gaudi himself.
The age of Moderism in Barcelona saw the wealthy industrialists compete for the biggest and best building in downtown Barcelona. Casa Batlló, Palau Güell and Casa Mila are stunning examples of this movement, but there's something a little more special about Casa Mila.
Gaudi was a huge fan of natural forms, and representations of nature can be seen in all of his works – using typically rigid materials such as marble stone and wrought iron to create soft lines, repetitions of water and nature and it is indeed this feature that sets Casa Mila apart from the rest of its neighbours. Apart from the fact that it is located on a corner, Casa Mila is a building bereft of straight lines or right angles! The building was constructed completely out of sandy coloured stone, and the locals at the time of its construction mocked this move by Gaudi, nicknaming the Casa Mila "La Perdera" or "the Stone quarry".
Gaudi's father was an ironmonger, and almost all of his works have considerable use of iron with La Pedrera being no exception. The balconies of the building have been cast in iron, and the waving curves of the building coupled with the iron balconies lend the vision of seaweed strewn along the shore.
Nowadays, Casa Mila is a building made up of private apartments, and is a central office of bank Caixa Catalunya. However, the public can visit the building and its well worth adding this into your itinerary. The visit comprises of three main areas. The penultimate floor of the building has been restored as a period 19th Century apartment which shows off Gaudi's innovative use of natural light through the patio wells in the building. This floor is also used in the summer for string quartets, and other classical musical events, which not surprisingly sell out very quickly.
The attic of the apartment is a museum with blueprints and audio visual information on Gaudi's main projects, including original sketches of La Pedrera's façade which look as if they were drawn with a purple crayon! There are some scale models with real attention to detail of most of Gaudi's works and a fascinating model of how the idea came about for Gaudi's masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, which is basically an iron wheel with lots of small sandbags tied to it with string which almost reach the floor. On the floor is a mirror, and the reflection shows the image of the Sagrada Familia and will leave you breathless as to the vision of the Catalan genius.
Perhaps the most impressive element about the attic is the actual construction. The arched bricks follow a central beam which curves around the whole attic and gives the feeling of a rib-cage – kind of like being inside Moby Dick!
Finally the rooftop terrace is an impressive finale. Although at the time of construction of many of Gaudi's buildings, the rooftops served as nothing more than a place for the chimneys, so again you can see just how far ahead of his time Gaudi was when you visit the rooftop of Casa Mila. The main chimney is dedicated to the St George cross – the patron saint of Catalunya – and broken tiles are used to decorate all of the chimneys to great effect, just as the benches in Park Güell. One has been decorated with broken cava bottles, and it is said that the Crucifixion façade of Sagrada Familia was designed in homage to the rooftop of Casa Mila, after original plans were damaged by looters in the civil war. Comparisons to George Lucas' stormtroopers in Star Wars are common! The rooftop is again on various levels with arches and steps flowing around and offering a fantastic view of the city streets below and through one arch a perfect view of the Sagrada Familia. The gaping wells in the building offer fantastic natural light and have been beautifully painted, too.
As a bonus for the visitors to Casa Mila, Caixa Catalunya also has a gallery space on the Mezzanine floor, which is usually included for free with your ticket to visit the rest of the building. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in architecture, I can highly recommend taking the time to visit Casa Mila – you will not be disappointed!