Hospital Sant Pau – the biggest Art Nouveau site in the world!

The Sant Pau hospital has just been reopened to the public after undergoing extensive restoration work. Designed by Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this UNESCO World Heritage Site, first opened its doors in 1930. Measuring over 31 000 m2
, it’s the biggest Art Nouveau site in the world(!), and no need to say; it’s quite impressive!

I’ve walked past it many times since I moved to Barcelona, but I’ve never been able to grasp the extent of it, nor get a good overview, much due to the fact that scaffolding has been up, and that the parameters have been closed off to the public. Yet, just passing by, you cannot help but notice the colourful domes and rooftops, the mosaics embedded in the brick walls, the sculptures and ornaments, the spired clock tower and the ornate windows. Based on this, I was very excited going to see the 12 pavilions which have been restored so far. I knew it would be an interesting visit, but I had no idea it would be that overwhelming. The outside is spectacular, but believe me; the inside will knock your socks off! I can’t remember being that mesmerised by architecture, inside and out, since I first visited La Sagrada Familia.

In lack of better and more descriptive words; it all just looks delicious! Vaulted ceilings tiled with patterns and colours so beautiful and rich it makes you want to stick out your tongue and taste it, antique windows with glass mosaics, ceilings with woodwork, mosaics and decorative ceramic details, original brick walls and marble staircases with carved stone decorations on each step. It’s all breath taking and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. No wonder it was also declared a Historic Artistic Monument in 1978.

The hospital was revolutionary in its focus on the importance of open air and sunlight for patients, which explains the layout consisting of various pavilions, rather than one bigger building. This also allows for the introduction of surrounding gardens. The recent landscaping of these areas; the materials used, the variety of plants, and the forms, patterns and repetitions created by these elements, is just beautifully done!

Part of the interior has been replaced over the years, and the recent upgrade show modernised areas. From an architectural point of view, it is so interesting to see what materials have been chosen and how the juxtaposition of new and old affects the overall expression. Glass is always a safe bet as it’s transparent, discreet, and allows for the original features to stand out, rather than to steal away from them. But wood, and more specifically pine, which has been used consistently throughout the hospital, was, in my opinion, a much bolder choice. But I have to say, it’s been so brilliantly done as well! The pine is allowed to stand out as a raw material with an untreated feel in certain areas, in others it’s varnished in a subtle greyish colour, yet by no means is it the focus of attention.

Entering the conference hall; at first the wooden walls give an overwhelmingly contemporary impression, and I wondered why such a vast space was given a modern look, and why focus was on wooden features. That was until I saw the ceiling. The blond wooden lamells creating a repetitive pattern along the walls immediately moved to the background as the spectacular ceiling grabbed my attention.

Blond wood and glass, clear or frosted, has been used throughout the pavilions creating a contrast to the old and allowing the original features to stand out in a most impressive way. I am definitely going back for more once more areas are opened to the public and guided tours are available.

On my way out I noticed this amazing view of La Sagrada Familia through the glass doors of the main entrance to the hospital. There they are; two architectural masterpieces, by two Catalan masters of Art Nouveau, facing each other respectfully from each end of Avenida de Gaudí.

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