Hydraulic ceramics, the modernist pavement

Have you ever noticed the floors of modernist buildings? Their decoration is so detailed that they look like carpets! Most of these floors are made of hydraulic ceramics, a type of handcrafted flooring very common during the Art Nouveau era.

Relation with Art Nouveau

Until the middle of the 19th century, noble floors were mainly made of marble. But at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, a new type of tile was presented that would largely banish the old materials: a tile that was made without firing, only with presses. This was the birth of hydraulic flooring. In Barcelona, the great expansion of this material coincided with Modernism. For this reason, great architects of the time such as Lluís Domènech i Montaner or Josep Puig i Cadafalch incorporated it into their buildings.

Composition

The hydraulic tile was manufactured piece by hand. It had three layers:

  • The visible, decorative layer, based on a mixture of white marble powder, white cement, sand and pigments. This is the visible surface. It was about 5mm thick. The colors of the designs were created by adding the color pigments to the mixture and adding a little of mixture to each segment of the mold to make the desired drawing.
  • The body, which was similar in thickness, was made only of gray Portland cement and sand, which absorbed excess water from the thin layer.
  • Base of the tile, made with gray cement and sand, about 12 mm thick, and is the layer that adhered to the floor. Its porous surface meant that it adhered easily when the tile was laid.

Characteristics

The entire mold with the three layers was placed in a hydraulic press, which consolidated it under pressure. Once the operation was completed, a hardening process began, which required the necessary humidity to strengthen the cement. The name hydraulics comes from being submerged in water for 24 hours and then kept moist.

The measurements of the hydraulic mosaics were diverse, there were 10 x 10 cm, 20 x 20 cm, 40 x 40 cm and even more measurements. Their designs often had floral and vegetal motifs inspired by the classic models. On the floors of the Casa de les Punxes you can find some of them designed and decorated by Enric Monserdà and other modernist artists and a small permanent exhibition on hydraulic flooring. You can also buy a replica of a tile from different modernist buildings in our shop.

Did you know about hydraulic flooring? How it was manufactured? If you want to know more about the pottery of the Casa de les Punxes, visit this entry about the secrets of the pottery of the Casa de les Punxes.

10 curiosities you need to know about Gaudí

You are probably familiar with the works of the world's most famous Catalan Modernist architect: La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, La Sagrada Família... His life is often much less well known. That's why we have made this compilation of 10 curiosities about Gaudí, so that you can get to know him a little better:

Childhood

  1. Even today, where Gaudí was born is a mystery. Some biographies indicate that he was born in Reus, while others indicate that he was born in Riudoms.
  2. He was a very sickly child, who spent long periods of rest in the Mas de la Calderera, a family country house in Riudoms where he could have been born and observed the nature he would later use in his work.
  3. The director of his primary school, Francesc Berenguer, was the father of one of his great collaborators: Francesc Berenguer i Mestres.

Studies

  1. When he moved to Barcelona, he worked while studying to pay for his architectural studies, in which he did not stand out as a good student, but was rather irregular.
  2. When he finished his studies, the director of the School of Architecture, Elies Rogent, declared about him: "I don't know if we gave the degree to a madman or a genius, time will tell".
  3. Two years before he finished his studies, his brother and mother died. A year after finishing them, his other sister died, leaving a niece with serious health problems in the care of him and her father.

Work

  1. His relationship with Eusebi Güell was not only one of patronage, but also one of his deepest friendships.
  2. He almost never designed his works on plans, but on three-dimensional models in every detail. In this way, the collaborators could see them as he had projected them in his mind.
  3. His famous "trencadís" technique was invented by himself and was used for the first time in the construction of the Güell estate.
  4. When he died, he was run over by a tram and nobody recognized him because of his careless appearance, until he met the priest of the Sagrada Familia in the hospital. 

What did you think? Did you know these curiosities about Gaudí? 

The modernist craftsmen of the Casa de les Punxes

Who designed the incredible ceramic panels? And who made the detailed and delicate wrought-iron flowers on the façade? Who made sure that the windows were one of the main atractions at the entrances to the house? Here we introduce you to the modernist craftsmen of the Casa de les Punxes and we answer all these questions.

Enric Monserdà

Enric Monserdà was in charge of all the decoration of Casa de les Punxes. This was not the first time he worked together with Puig i Cadafalch for the Terradas family. He had already been in charge of the decoration of the family's Mas Sobrevia in Seva. In this ancestral home, where he worked between 1901 and 1905, religious decoration was the main feature, as is usual in the decorations of Monserdà. His relationship with the Terradas family was so close that he had lived for long periods both in Mas Sobrevia and in the Casa de les Punxes, for reasons of rest and relaxation in the case of the former, and temporarily set up his studio in the Punxa Principal in the latter.

The peculiarity of his style is very present in the decoration of Casa de les Punxes, where we find representations of religious figures such as Saint George and several symbols that refer to the Church and the Holy Trinity. Of his designs in the Casa Terradas, we highlight the incredible ceramic panels, as well as the designs of the details of the stained-glass windows and the decorative elements of artificial stone and iron. Monserdà not only designed the decoration of the walls, façades, floors and ceilings, but also participated in the decoration of the furniture inside the house.

 

Casa de les Punxes

Amigó Workshop

It was known in its time as the most important glass workshop in Barcelona. The artists Josep and Joaquim Amigó, among others, worked together with Enric Monserdà, who was the artistic director of the workshop.

The works of the Amigó Workshop are present in such important works of Catalan Modernism as the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia or the Casa de les Punxes. In the latter, the windows of the entrances to the house are particularly noteworthy, with vegetable and floral motifs in different colors and textures. This vegetable decoration, together with the wrought iron details of the railings and the sgraffito motifs on the walls of the staircase, introduces nature into the house, creating continuity with the decoration of the façades.

 

Vitral taller Amigó modernist craftmens

Manuel Ballarín i Lancuentra

Ballarín was one of the main modernist forgers who existed in Catalonia. During his years of work he collaborated with different architects and artists of the time, but especially with Puig i Cadafalch. Their collaboration was so close that Puig and Cadafalch became partner in his workshop "Manuel Ballarin y Cia S.L.".

The Ballarin Workshop innovated and modernized the production of modernist forging, making pieces in series in a mechanized way. These pieces were arranged in a catalog from which you could choose predefined designs. This technique greatly reduced the cost and selling price of its pieces.

In the Casa de les Punxes we can find details of forging by Manuel Ballarín all over the outside of the house, on the roof, on the entrances and even in the Punxes. His motifs are always vegetable and floral, forming part of the nature that surrounds and forms part of the Casa de les Punxes.

 

Taller Ballarín modernist craftmens

Alfons Juyol i Bach

Juyol was a Catalan sculptor specialized in architectural decoration. He shared a prestigious sculpture and stonework workshop with his brother Josep Juyol known as "Juyol Brothers". He was a very perfectionist and had the peculiarity of making models of the decorations that he would make to the facades of the buildings that hired him.

Alfons Juyol collaborated with great modernist architects such as Puig i Cadafalch and Domènech i Montaner in buildings such as Casa Amatller, Casa Macaya, Casa León Morera and the Palau Baró de Quadres. Other great modernist artists such as the founder Manuel Ballarín, the sculptor Eusebi Arnau, Miquel Utrillo, the ceramist Maragliano and the decorators Moragas and Alarma also trusted their work.

Juyol collaborated very closely with Puig i Cadafalch in many of his works and the Casa de les Punxes is one of them. We can find details of his work such as the stone decoration of the Main Punxa with the anagram of Àngela Terradas Brutau, among others. You can discover it in this link from one of our guides.

Did you know all the modernist craftsmen who collaborated in the Casa de les Punxes? Which one is your favourite?

 

Panel cerámico Casa de les Punxes

The secrets of the Casa de les Punxes ceramics

The Casa de les Punxes stands out on Avenida Diagonal for its monumentality and unique style. One of the elements that stand out, apart from the reddish colour of its facades, are the Punxes characteristics of the building. Also at the top of the house are the well-known ceramic panels of the Casa de les Punxes, one of the decorative wonders of Enric Monserdà. Inside the house, other ceramic jewels are hidden waiting to be discovered. In this article we will make a compilation of the most significant ones.

  • Ceramic panels

The ceramic panels are one of the most impressive decorative details of the Casa de les Punxes. The panels are the exterior decorative element that reveals that the Casa de les Punxes, despite looking like a unitary building, is divided into several houses. At the Casa de les Punxes we can find five panels, two in Josepa's house, one in Àngela's house and the other two at the house of Rosa. In all of them, we can see symbols that indicate the relevance of each one of the houses to the three sisters, except in Saint George’s panel, in which we find a hidden reference in the architect of the house. In the next article of the blog we will learn more about the symbolism of these panels.

 

ceramic Casa de les Punxes

 

  • The Punxes

The Punxes majestically crown the Avenida Diagonal. On the main facade of the building, which overlooks Rosselló Street, we find a Punxes of a larger size than the others, which breaks the symmetry of the house. All the punxes are covered by ceramic tiles in the shape of scales. Those are made by hand and therefore are imperfect and even have different shades and colors.

These ceramics are attached to the surface of the tower one by one and lime mortar is used as a fixture. This allows expansion according to temperature without the structure being altered. Their arrangement allows to highlight the dome shape of the punxes. These scales are very delicate, so they have been restored several times following the traditional procedure. Here we can see a process of creating similar ceramic pieces. Also, noteworthy are the glazed ceramic pieces which, placed on the tiles, act as a link between the two sides of the roof. These stones are signed by J. Arpí. This indicates that they could be materials manufactured by the craftsman from Lloret, Pere Arpí Garí, with whom Puig i Cadafalch worked on some previous project.

 

ceramic Casa de les Punxes

 

Technicals innovations in the ceramic "Punxes" of Casa de les Punxes

Puig i Cadafalch applies a technical innovation in the punxes. In these, he uses iron to be able to collect, channel and divert the loads (internal and external forces) towards the foundations. On the one hand, Puig i Cadafalch uses reinforcement belts (made of iron) that act as containers for the forces and help to alleviate the flow of loads. As far as ceramics are concerned, we find the rings or strips of ceramic brick that work under pressure forming the internal skeleton of the tower together with the metal belts. In this way, the weight of the turn is perfectly channelled and distributed.

This constructive revolution is remarkable in the biggest Punxa, in which it takes the structural advances to a maximum extreme. The metallic structures are no longer supported on columns, but hang by means of metallic strips that work by traction. That transmit the loads of all the weight to the circular ceramic brick perimeter, making them work in compression. In this way, the floors of the towers "float" as they do not distribute all their weight on the perimeter walls. They are held in place by the metal strips working in traction.

 

ceramic Punxes interior

 

  • Ceramic tiles

In the Casa de les Punxes the ceramic tiles of its main entrances are well known, and we can also see them under the balconies of the facade. The majolica tiles, designed by Antoni Maria Gallissà, had been used before in another building designed by Puig i Cadafalch for the Terradas family: the Sobrevia farmhouse. He also used this same majolica in the Palau Macaya, as part of the decoration. The tiles, although independent, have a design that allows them to be combined to form another joint design.

 

Majolica ceramic

 

Did you know all these ceramics from the Casa de les Punxes? If you found it interesting, we recommend you also read the following article about the symbolism in the ceramic panels of the Casa de les Punxes.

Josep Maria Jujol and the colors of Catalan Modernism

Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert was a Catalan modernist artist contemporary with Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner and Antoni Gaudí, among others. Jujol was a close collaborator of Gaudí.

Josep Maria Jujol was born on September 16, 1879, in Tarragona, from where he moved in 1885 to live with his parents in the Vila de Gracia. Since he was a child, drawing was one of his hobbies and his sensitivity to colors was evident. He studied at the School of Architecture in Barcelona between 1901 and 1906, when it was directed by Domènech i Montaner.

The relationship between Josep Maria Jujol and Antoni Maria Gallissà

While he was studying, Jujol collaborated in the elaboration of decorative details with the architect and professor Antoni Maria Gallissà i Soqué, whom he considered his great teacher. Gallissà was a great friend of Puig i Cadafalch, known for his great decorations. One of the colorful majolica designs of Casa de les Punxes is his, in which one can appreciate his great sensitivity to detail and the color that Jujol incorporated into his style.

 

Mayólica Antoni Maria Gallissà

Even before finishing his studies, Josep Maria Jujol started his collaborations with Gaudí in La Pedrera, Casa Batlló or Parque Güell, among others. The young architect was fascinated by Gaudí's work and put all his enthusiasm into his collaborations with him. The vibrant colors of Casa Batllo's façade are attributed to Jujol, as well as the design of the balconies of La Pedrera, among others. One of his most famous collaborations is the one with the Park Güell, where the colorful solution of the great undulating bench was the work of Jujol, as well as the soffits and the decoration of the hypostyle room.

 

Mosaico Park Guell Josep Maria Jujol Gaudí

Apart from his close relationship with great modernist architects such as Gallissà or Gaudí, Jujol built a very personal style. This was characterized by great attention to handcrafted details, his religiousness, and the colorism of his works. These characteristics can be seen in one of his most famous works, Can Negre, in Sant Joan Despí.

 

Can Negre Josep Maria Jujol

Throughout his life, Jujol suffered from various chronic ailments, which ended on May 1, 1949 due to an intestinal perforation. The modernist artist was buried in the family niche, with a tombstone he had designed himself.

Saint George, a multi-faceted hero

Saint George has a special relevance within the Catalan culture, that's why this festivity is very special and very celebrated in Catalonia.

He was and is one of the most popular saints, venerated by different religious confessions. Jacopo da Varazze wrote the legend of Saint George and the Dragon in the 13th century in his work "Legenda sanctorum", in which he collected fables of several saints. In a short time the legend had spread all over Europe.

An ancient legend

The legend of the knight who slays the dragon does not begin with St. George or the Christian imagination, but is believed to be an assimilation of much older legends. For example, we find a similar legend in a Sumerian epic from three thousand years before Christ. We can also find references in this legend to Ancient Egypt or the Roman Empire.

Today, the legend and St. George's Day are celebrated in many countries around the world. This saint is the patron saint of Catalonia and Aragon, but also of many cities and countries such as England, Russia, Poland or Greece, among others.

Saint George in Barcelona

St. George's Day is a very popular celebration. Its patronage of Catalonia is a common element in different Catalan artistic currents and expressions. This is the case of Modernism, which very often uses the figure of Saint George in its works. We can see representations and allusions to his figure or the dragon in several Modernist buildings in Barcelona such as Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Palau Güell or Casa de les Punxes. In the Casa de les Punxes we find a ceramic panel designed by Enric Monserdà. On it, the courageous knight with the sword over the dragon appears together with the inscription in Catalan: "Patron Saint of Catalonia, give us back our freedom".

This is not the only element that reminds us of the legend of the house. The scales of the fierce dragon's back come to life in the characteristic Punxes, besieging the house from the sky.

The brave knight was a very important figure for Catalan modernism, and especially for the work of Puig y Cadafalch and Enric Monserdà, the respective architect and decorator of Casa de les Punxes. That is why the Casa de les Punxes has a route designed to rediscover his legend, as well as to penetrate its symbolism, its history, Catalan modernism and the figure of its architect, Puig Cadafalch.

Antoni Maria Gallissà, the decorator of modernism

Antoni Maria Gallissà was an important modernist architect, a close friend of Josep Puig i Cadafalch and a regular collaborator of Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

Gallissà was born on 10 September 1861 in Barcelona. After graduating with the highest marks at the age of twenty-four, he taught at the Barcelona School of Architecture. During this period he collaborated with Domènech i Montaner and began his political life. He became a member of the Catalanist Union and the League of Catalonia. Domènech i Montaner greatly influenced the architectural style of Gallissà.

Outstanding works

One of his most notable and well-known architectural works is the Casa Llopis Bofill in Barcelona. A modernist-style apartment building in the Eixample district with sgraffito artwork by Josep Maria Jujol. The complete decoration of the façade with ceramics designed by himself of this house stands out.

 

Despite being an architect, it must be said that the design of the decorative elements of Gallissà is particularly noteworthy. Most modernist architects designed, in addition to houses and buildings, furniture, ceramics, flags and all kinds of decoration, but those of Gallissà were particularly well known. A notable example of these decorative elements would be the Orfeó Català catalan flag in a mosaic by Lluís Brú in the Palau de la Música Catalana. Another remarkable design was that of the lighting and ornamentation of Carrer de Ferran (1902), inspired by medieval tile drawings, which he was fond of.

Gallissà was also a regular designer of ceramics at the Pujol y Bausis factory and of the Casa Escofet hydraulic floor tiles. One of his maiolicas was used in two buildings belonging to his friend Puig i Cadafalch: the Palau Macaya and the monumental Casa de les Punxes. This maiolica, like many of his other designs, has plant motifs, common in Catalan modernism. You can find an explanatory video about this maiolica on the YouTube of Casa de les Punxes

From a very young age, Antoni Maria Gallissà suffered from heart problems, of which he died prematurely on 17 April 1903 at the age of 42.

Josep Llimona y Bruguera, the sculptor of Modernism

Josep Llimona i Bruguera is one of the best known sculptors of Catalan Modernism and a well-known collaborator of Gaudí.

Born on 8 April 1863 into a wealthy family, Josep Llimona is considered one of the leading representatives of Modernist sculpture. His brother, Joan Llimona, was the leading representative of the mystical side of Catalan Modernist painting. The sons of the two brothers were also artists, continuing the lineage begun with the successful Llimona brothers.

Josep Llimona studied at the Llotja school and in the workshop of the German sculptors Venanci and Agapit Vallmitjana. In 1880, when he was only 16 years old, he obtained with "The Prodigal Son" the Fortuny Pension from the Barcelona City Council. Thanks to it, he moved with his brother Joan to Rome, where he continued to study and work in the workshop of the painter Enric Serra and in the Giggi Academy. There she made the first draft of the well-known statue "Ramon Berenguer el Grande". That work meant for Llimona the possibility of renewing the pension for one more year in order to finish it and, later, to win the Gold Medal at the 1888 Barcelona Exhibition. The commissions were constant for the incipient artist on his return to Barcelona.

In 1893, they founded, together with their brother and other artists, the Círculo Artístico de San Lucas. This association watched over the preservation of art in the face of the excesses of the artists of the time. During this period, Josep Llimona was highly influenced by the religious life so active that he adopted his brother and made sculptures with religious themes.

Outstanding works

Among his prolific work, one of his most outstanding is "Desconsuelo", which won the prize of honour at the International Exhibition of Fine Arts in Barcelona in 1907. Two years later, Josep Llimona was appointed town councillor and member of the Board of Museums, of which he later became president on two occasions.

Five years later he collaborated with Gaudí in the First Mystery of Glòria at Montserrat with the sculpture "Cristo resucitado". In 1920 they dedicated an entire room of the Barcelona Fine Arts Exhibition to his work as a tribute. Four years later he made what would be considered one of his masterpieces: the statue of Saint George.

Josep Llimona died on February 27, 1934, and was the second president of the Museums Board.

5 Catalan Modernist smiths you should know

It happens very often that many people know the great Catalan Modernist architects, but not the brilliant Catalan Modernist smiths  who collaborated on their buildings. Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner... Everyone knows their names, but do we know who Manuel Ballarín, the Badia brothers, or Joan Oñós were? Do we know which buildings they collaborated on? Now you can discover great modernist forgers thanks to this selection.

Germans Badia Miarnau

Halfway between the Casa de les Punxes and the Sagrada Familia, at number 270 Carrer de Nàpols, Luis and José Badia y Mirarnau had their workshop, built by Gaudí. Regular collaborators of Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol, one of their most famous works is the grille and balconies of La Pedrera, the Bellesguard door and the ironwork on the façade of Casa Batlló. Also the irons of the façade of the Palau Güell and its well-known heraldic shield, which they made still under the orders of their master: Joan Oñós.

Joan Oñós

A master forger, he taught the Badia brothers the art of modernist forging until his retirement. Also with a workshop near the Sagrada Familia, in Carrer Aragó between Passeig de Sant Joan and Carrer de Roger de Flor, Joan Oñós collaborated with Gaudí in several projects. His works include the grille that surrounds and protects the family tree of Jesus Christ at La Sagrada Família, the grille of Casa Vicens, the doorknobs of Casa Calvet and the gas light fittings of the Palau Güell.

Salvador Gabarró

Also a collaborator of Gaudí, he carried out every work we know under the guidelines and orders of Joan Oñós, we know almost nothing more about his figure, but we do know that he collaborated with Gaudí at the Palau Güell.

Vallet i Piquer

Mr Vallet y Piquer was a forger who also collaborated with Gaudí. Although we don't know many details of his works and life. We do know that he was in charge of manufacturing the well-known fence of the Güell Pavilions, with the incredible dragon's wrought iron door.

Manuel Ballarín i Lancuentra

Finally, we meet Manuel Ballarín, Puig and Cadafalch's most faithful collaborator. His workshop, Casa Ballarín, was located in Carrer del Peu de la Creu and was one of the largest and most important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He had more than 20 workers in his workshop. Ballarín collaborated in ten of Puig and Cadafalch's works, including Casa Macaya, Casa Amatller and the incredible Casa de les Punxes. He also collaborated in the famous Seats-Streetlights of Paseo de Gracia, from which he made the street lights, with the classic "coup de fouet".

In 1900, Manuel Ballarín modernized and popularized the technique of forging by means of mechanized serial production and his own designs. This enabled him to drastically reduce the price of decorative pieces. The result of this revolution can be seen in the impressive decoration of Casa de les Punxes.

Forja Casa de les Punxes

So much for our selection of modernist forgers - do you know of anymore that we haven't mentioned?

Casa de les Punxes

La Casa de les Punxes, a singular building

Location

The Casa Terradas or Casa de les Punxes is the great project of Puig i Cadafalch. In this building, the architect experimented with its monumental dimensions and was able to construct a building isolated from the others. There are very few occasions when this was possible in the Eixample of Barcelona, due to the characteristics of the neighbourhood. Moreover, the Casa de les Punxes occupies a triangular block of isolated buildings, being the only modernist building with this peculiar location. This, however, is not the only singularity that the house has in the architectural field.

The Casa de les Punxes was built because the three sisters of the Brutau Terrades family lived there: Rosa, Angela and Josepa. Instead of designing three isolated buildings, Puig i Cadafalch decided to build a single unitary block of monumental dimensions that would stand out on the Avinguda Diagonal. The site of Casa de les Punxes is very irregular and hexagonal, which made the design of the house a unique architectural challenge between Avinguda Diagonal and the streets of Bruc and Rosselló.

Facades

The block of Casa de les Punxes has a stone base that covers the entire height up to the ground floor, from which we find exposed brick, combined with the copper tone of the light Calafell stone present in some building elements of the house. This combination gave the Casa de les Punxes its well-known reddish colour, which made it stand out from its surroundings at the time of its construction and still today.

Decoration

The decoration and composition of the house is different in the different façades because of the singularity of its form. The two main façades are narrower. They have a large tribune that indicates the different levels and floors of the house by means of white stone squares with plant motifs. Each of these façades is crowned by different triangles, finished in points. The central triangle of these has a decorative ceramic panel at the top. Those which refers to different symbols linked to the history of the house, its style and its inhabitants. Also, on top of the incredible building we find the characteristic six towers finished in points that give the house its well-known nickname.

These are just some peculiarities of the house in the architectural field. The Casa de les Punxes still has many more curiosities to offer its visitors, and we will be able to discover them in the next articles of the blog and inside the Casa de les Punxes itself.