One of my reasons for choosing to come to Barcelona this year was to visit Gaudi’s famous Casa Battlo. I became friends during the year with a young composer Dani Howard who had composed the tracks for the guided audio tour of the house and I was keen to see inside the amazing building and hear how Dani had responded to her brief. The hotel has a breakfast buffet but I went in quest of something simpler. Opposite Casa Battlo was a Santander Bank work cafe which I thought I’d try. Result too, as Santander account holders get a 30% discount, so it was a very cheap juice, coffee and croissant. Loads of other industrious people were poring over laptops, negotiating on the phone and working hard. Interesting idea.
The first part of the tour is in the basement in a Yayoi Kusama style mirror room. You step onto a moving metal platform and make a large circle through projections of the architect himself slumped exhausted among his drawings and the objects from nature that inspired his designs – fish, shells, mushrooms, rock formations. This is accompanied by a very watery track, whooshing waves mixed with orchestral sounds and set a theme for the tour which likens Gaudi’s structure to a section through an inverted ocean – I didn’t write the script!
The tour proper is guided by a tablet with sixteen icons to select when you enter a room with that sign and commentary and music play. I absolutely love the building – the innovative elements, gorgeous woodwork, wrought iron balustrades and typical Gaudi trencadis – the patterned facades we usually call mosaics which combine broken tiles, glass and other materials making Gaudi the great recycler. I’ve added a few images from the house but it’s very tactile as well – you need to be there.
The house is tall and has this fabulous double atrium from floor to skylight flooding it with light – a very clever touch. So the the tour heads inexorably upwards until you reach the roof with great views over the city. As you mount each flight and select the next images so Dani’s music changes to fit the atmosphere and function of the room you’re in. It is wonderfully varied – simple piano pieces at times, what sounds like a marimba and cello rippling away for another but generally fully orchestral and often choral themes that work extremely well. The huge uplifting crescendo for the top of the stairs gave even my weary legs a jolt of energy. I think there’s a Battlo Suite for concert performance in there – rights permitting of course. The great thing is that the orchestra at the recording was under the baton of Pablo Urbina, now Dani’s husband.
After a few moments contemplation on the roof marvelling that the large structures were in fact the house’s water supply we descend through another work of art. What was once the fire escape has been transformed by the Japanese sculptor Kendo Kuma who has draped the walls in swirls of aluminium links of chain mail which are aesthetically pleasing and highly tactile.
You exit through an immersive screen cube with projections of Gaudi icons and responses by artist Refik Anadol. The website suggests an hour and fifteen minutes – I went in at 11:00 and out at 13:30. House and music in utter harmony and I even made it up and back downstairs. I’d heard of the nearby Cerveseria Catalana and thought that would be a good option for lunch. Hah! Why I’d heard of it is that everybody else had, so I waited a little less than the threatened twenty minutes – it sometimes helps being just one – and enjoyed the amazing atmosphere and some great carved ham with a beer and then a glass of Verdejo with some anchovies and padron peppers a combination I’d not had before.