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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 17:12 GMT
Barcelona builds on Gaudi
One of Europe's most unusual private houses has opened its doors to the public for the first time in its history.
It is the Casa Batllo, on the Passeig Gracia, one of Barcelona's grandest streets.
The house is instantly recognisable because of its roof, which depending on your viewpoint, resembles either a fish or a dragon.
The house was the creation of Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona's most famous architect, who was born 150 years ago and who shattered traditional concepts by creating curvaceous, colourful and often bizarre buildings.
The public is being granted entry to the Casa Batllo, and other properties, as part of Gaudi 2002, a year of celebration which is designed to posthumously raise the profile of this most lateral of thinkers.
The Queen of Spain will formally inaugurate the Gaudi international year later this month.
Like many artists, Gaudi was under-appreciated during his lifetime.
He died in 1926 after being knocked down by a taxi. Gaudi had been living like a hermit in his studio for a year and looked so incredibly scruffy that the taxi driver mistook him for a vagrant and refused to take him to hospital.
He is regarded as a genius in Barcelona and throughout the architectural world. But Gaudi 2002's organisers feel he is not famous enough.
"This should confirm Gaudi's international legacy", said Malu Piedrabuena, project manager of the Casa Battlo.
"I see the sea everywhere in this house", said Ms Piedrabuena as she took me up in a small wooden panelled lift up to the top of the tall central atrium.
It is covered in blue tiles that become progressively darker.
"Look at this glass", she said, motioning to a thick, translucent, wavy glass waist high panel.
At first sight it looks like nothing. But if you take care and move yourself along it a little bit you will see water moving. And she is absolutely right.
Downstairs Ms Piedrabuena sits in a mushroom shaped fireplace in a curvy womb like brown room.
"I adore the story of this fireplace. On one side there are two seats where a young couple in love would sit. On the other there is one seat where the chaperone would watch them".
Outside 20 year old Californian tourist Peter Cramer is looking up at awe at the Casa Batllo's extraordinary facade.
"It takes a radically altered consciousness to come up with designs so radically different," he says.
"I really enjoy Gaudi because he was so ahead of his time. It must have been so revolutionary to come up with these ideas when other people were building things with straight lines".
About two hundred metres up the Passeig Gracia is another extraordinary apartment building, called the Casa Mila, or La Pedrera.
It looks as if it has been carved out of a rockface. The roof dips and turns like a roller coaster and is covered with the most unusual chimneys, some of which look like mediaeval soldiers' helmets.
Gaudi is regarded as one of the visionaries of "modernisme", which was the Spanish riposte to France's Art Nouveau movement of the turn of the 20th century .
Barcelona's cultural elite is trying to convince the rest of the world to appreciate Gaudi as not just an architect,but as a complete artist.
"Its not just the buildings, its the magic power of his creation", says Daniel Giralt Miracle, Barcelona's commissioner of Gaudi 2002.
"It's human but it's also divine."
In the face of such devotion, it's almost regarded as heresy in Barcelona to say that you don't like the works of Gaudi.
But there have been critics. British author George Orwell described Gaudi's grandest work, the Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family Temple) as one of the most hideous buildings in the world.
Gaudi died leaving it unfinished, creating a row between those who believed the building should be left untouched and the victors who argued that his greatest work should be completed.
The Sagrada Familia is dwarfed by cranes and packed with scaffolding as construction creeps ever onwards.
Gaudi 2002 with its exhibitions, seminars, and films, is expected to more than double the two million visitors who normally visit Barcelona each year. The extra revenues could help to fund the construction work.
"The objective of the international year is not only propaganda,business and more hotels", says Daniel Giralt Miacle.
"It's about promoting the philosophy of his art".
Mr Giralt Miracle is one of those who is unsure about the wisdom of continuing the Sagrada Familia.
But he says they have to be guided by Gaudi's spirit - a spirit without a spirit level.
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