five of its finest buildings

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Barcelona is rightly known for its architecture, but there is much more to see than Gaudí and the still unfinished Sagrada Familia. This year Catalonia celebrates the centenary of the death of Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1849-1923), one of Gaudí’s contemporaries and a leading figure in the Catalan modernism movement,

Throughout the year there will be lectures, videos and conferences celebrating the work of this prolific architect, as well as a tour of some of his 26 buildings, 11 of which are in Barcelona. Domènech, who played a prominent role in the Catalan cultural revival known as the Renaissance, combined modern techniques such as steel framing with nostalgic and often romantic concepts of Spanish and Catalan culture. Ironwork, ceramics and stained glass characterize its richly decorated buildings.

Here are five of the architect’s most emblematic buildings.

Castell dels Tres Dragons contains medieval influences.

Castell dels Tres Dragons contains medieval influences. Photo: Alami

Standing in the northwest corner of the Parc de la Ciutadella, the Castell dels Tres Dragons was built in 1888 as a café and restaurant for the World’s Fair. Although an early work, Domènech had already developed his signature style of exposed brickwork and iron construction. There are medieval references and a nod to Hispanic Arabic mudejar style, with heraldic motifs and images of plants and animals. The capitals and columns in the café are based on the 12th-century synagogue in Toledo. The Castell had a later life as the city’s natural history museum, but that has now moved and the building is being restored.

The design of the concert hall has Spanish and Arabic elements.

The design of the concert hall has Spanish and Arabic elements. Photo: Brian Jannsen/Alamy

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The steel-framed concert hall built in 1908 for the Orfeó Català Choir was funded by public donations and is widely regarded as Domènech’s most complete masterpiece. As with the Castell, the facade consists of bricks and iron and decorative mosaics with elements of Spanish and Arabic architecture. Inside, the dominant element is stained glass. Even the balusters on the stairs are made of glass and the concert hall itself is walled in glass, so that in summer the recitals start in daylight and give the feeling of listening to music in a garden. The ceiling supports a giant sun-like skylight, while the semi-circular stage is clad in carvings of 18 “muses”. The acoustics are surprisingly good given the amount of glass, and to fully appreciate the Palau, go to a concert. There are classical, jazz and flamenco concerts all year round. Guided tours are also available.

Hospital de Sant Pau Barcelona.

A hospital that is an ‘exuberant feast of ceramics, glass and ornamentation’. Photo: Alami

Work on what is Europe’s largest Art Nouveau building began in 1901, but was not completed until 1930, after the architect’s death. Facing the sea so that patients can benefit from the breeze of the Mediterranean, the building incorporates what were then modern ideas about healthcare and hygiene, with ample ventilation and open spaces. It consists of a series of interconnected buildings, each focusing on different medical conditions. The curved, tiled surfaces of the operating rooms, with no crevices for dirt to collect, reflect the growing awareness of the need for a sterile environment. The main administration building is a lavish celebration of ceramics, glass, and ornamentation, unlike any hospital designed before or since. Sant Pau continued to serve as one of the city’s main hospitals until 2009. Together with the Palau de la Música Catalana, it was declared a Unesco heritage site in 1997.

The Institut Pere Mata is a psychiatric hospital.

The Institut Pere Mata is a psychiatric hospital in Reus. Photo: Cavan Images/Alamy

Reus, an hour and 20 minutes south of Barcelona by train, is now a bit backward but was once a prosperous textile town. The house was commissioned by Joaquim Navàs Padró, a textile merchant, and Domènech began working on it in 1901 in collaboration with interior designer Gaspar Homar. Together they created an intricately decorated house rich in details, in which stained glass and ceramics are again the protagonists. Despite being damaged during the Spanish Civil War, it retains all original furnishings. If you are in Reus, you can visit Domènech’s other buildings there, in particular the Pere Mata psychiatric hospital.

Casa Museu Domenech

Domènech designed some of his most famous buildings in his studio in Canet de Mar. Photo: Campillo Rafael/Alamy

Domènech built this house to house his large family and he designed some of his most famous works in the building’s studio. Since 1998 it has been a museum where not only a tour of the building is given, but also exhibitions illustrating his work, not only as an architect but also as a writer. Domènech also built the city’s Ateneu (Cultural Center), which is similar in design to the Castell dels Tres Dragons. The museum organizes a tour through his and the work of others modernist architects in the city, one hour by train north of Barcelona.

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