Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Montaner i Simon Editorial Office

The Montaner i Simon Editorial Office (1881-1886) is the first major building by Lluís Domènech I Montaner. It is situated on the c/ Aragó, 225, just off the Passeig de Gràcia, and belongs to a period of extensive  building in the Eixample (we remember the city walls were only demolished in 1854). the building housed the printing workshop and offices of a publishing company.

At this time, the predominant architectural style was eclecticism: architects borrowed from the vocabulary of existing forms, producing works that were neoclassical (Vilaseca’s Workshops of the Masriera Painters), neoclassical mixed with baroque (the Cascada in the Ciutadella), neoromanesque (Elies Rogent’s University building) and so on.

Between 1880 and 1885 a number of buildings were designed which take this eclectic approach while clearly announcing a spirit of modernity. These mark a transition between eclecticism and the next major style, Modernisme, and are sometimes called protomodernist. The Editorial Simon building is part of this transition. Other comparable buildings in Barcelona are: The Acadèmia de Ciències (1883), the Indústries d’Art de Francesc Vidal (1884), Gaudí’s Casa Vicens (1883-85) and Martorell's Church of Las Salesas  (1885). One could add Vilaseca's Arc de Triomf (1888). While several of the features of Modernism are in place, elements such as organic forms come a little later.

The Building
The Editorial Simon consists of a striking façade leading to an industrial building behind. The building was constructed on the principles of clarity and legibility: the floors are clearly demarcated and lit from a skylight, and constructed on an iron frame. There is no attempt to cover up the industrial function with ornamentation: this is a deliberate stylistic statement, a celebration of industry in the spirit of the Exposició Universal of 1888.

The most immediately obvious aspect of the façade is the use of exposed brick. A neoclassical building would conceal brickwork with stucco, but in this anti-academic approach the material is left undisguised. (This becomes a common feature: compare it to the Arc de Triomf, or Domènech’s next work, the Café-Restaurant for the 1888 Exhibition). The use of brickwork, together with, iron and ceramics celebrates craft and industry. Exposed brickwork alludes to to the Moorish (Mudéjar) tradition in Spain. Heraldic symbols point to a Gothic past. Other aspects are more strikingly modern: the windows at street level contain one of the earliest uses of the whiplash curve, the trademark of Art Nouveau / Modernism. In this way a fusion between past and present is sought, in order to find a truly national style of architecture. Other general features of the façade are symmetry, harmonious disposition of verticals and horizontals, ironwork and some detailed ornamentation on the central tower. There is a tension between the rational and the exotic which was to become a distinguishing feature of Lluís Domènech I Montaner’s architecture. In general, he takes a more rationalist approach, while Gaudí is more expressive.

The building now houses the Tàpies foundation, whose website provides a more detailed description of the building and its history.
The next building of Domènech to look at chronologically is the Café-Restaurant (Castell dels Tres Dragons). The Palau Montaner was built as a city villa for the family who owned the publishing company.
Further Sources
For more on the architecture of the period, see these extracts from the monograph by David Mackay.

 Domènech’s article 'En busca d'una arquitectura moderna' (in Spanish) can be found here.

The Ruta Domènech I Montaner is handy but only available in Catalan, I think.