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Once a joke, Sagrada Familia today enjoys plaudits

By Laura Allsop, for CNN
  • Works continue on architect Antoní Gaudi's enormous church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia
  • Completion date is slated to be 2025
  • Once misunderstood, the architect is increasingly appreciated by architects today

(CNN) -- After 127 years, works continue on Antoni Gaudi's monumental church in Barcelona, but the once misunderstood architect is enjoying a critical reappraisal.

His infamous labor of the love is the Gothic-inspired La Sagrada Familia, a structure boasting 18 spires, five naves, and countless ornate sculptures.

It is thought it will be the biggest church in the world -- when it is finally finished, that is.

Though he died in 1926, Gaudi's vision continues to be added to by the dedicated architects that are doggedly carrying on his work.

Pope to make his second visit to Spain

In a tribute to the man and his vision, Pope Benedict XVI is consecrating the church this week, though it is still way off completion. Estimates pin the date of completion to 2025.

Already a UNESCO world heritage site visited yearly by around two million people, the Sagrada Familia is widely thought of as an icon of Barcelona.

Eduard Sole, who runs a website and fan club in Barcelona with 20,000 members dedicated to Gaudi, told CNN: "When people see the Sagrada Familia, two things come up. They either hate or they love it, but nobody says, 'This means nothing to me.'"

According to Sole, Gaudi was a man ahead of his time and under-appreciated for the work that he made.

"In magazines at the time, people were making jokes about his work," he said. "But he was always modern, special and different to the rest."

But though popular among tourists and local people, not all architects appreciate Gaudi's florid style.

Michael Weinstock is an architect and director at London's Architectural Association school.

"I'd say 25 years ago, particularly in English schools, he was disregarded," he said. "In the past he was seen as an oddball, producing very odd and very unique works."

But he also said that there has been a recent shift in opinion. "It's a generational change," he said. "There's a new mathematical approach being taught and Gaudi was supremely mathematical."

He was always modern, special and different to the rest
--Eduard Sole, Gaudi and Barcelona Club

Gaudi's way of working was complex and drew from traditional Catalan engineering methods.

He would make models using strings with small bags attached to them that would create, according to Weinstock, a kind of digital sculpture composed of numerous curves.

Weinstock told CNN: "If you saw one, you would say it was a classic Gaudi curve. If you turn that curve upside down, it's structurally very strong. So that was his great innovation."

People are as enchanted by the story of Gaudi's life as much as they are interested in his architecture.

In his final years, he even lived in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, devoting himself completely to it.

"By all accounts he was a very dedicated, solitary man, who lived for architecture," Weinstock said. "In some ways he fulfils, for architects, a kind of heroic model."

Locals see the man differently. Luis Gueilburt is a sculptor who teaches Gaudi Studies at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

He said: "If you think of a father-figure; that is so important to the people; that you laugh with and cry with and have problems with -- that is Gaudi to Barcelona."

The Vatican is even processing a bid to have Gaudi canonized for the dedication he displayed towards his project.

As for the continued building process, Weinstock likens it to "a cultural madness."

But he also said that it should be completed, reasoning that: "It is complex and difficult and it defies all the odds of our normal life."

"We have to make money and we have to survive and practical things," he continued. "And there's something inherently wonderful about trying to finish that building, despite all the odds."