Sagrada Familia Architecture | Constructing the Most Iconic Cathedral of Barcelona

Sagrada FamiliaArchitecture

The Sagrada Familia is a famous Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Spain, designed by Antoni Gaudi. The construction of the Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882 and came to a temporary halt in 1926, when Antoni Gaudi passed away.

The church’s construction has since resumed and is anticipated to be completed by 2026, marking Gaudi's death's centennial. Although incomplete, Sagrada Familia attracts millions of tourists every year. Continue reading to learn more about the architectural style and design of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Architecture & design of Sagrada Familia | Quick overview

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Who designed Sagrada Familia?

While Antoni Gaudi is credited with being the genius who envisioned the Sagrada Familia, he is not the only one who worked on the basilica. The construction of the cathedral started in 1882. When Gaudi passed away in 1926, the church was only 25% complete. Over the course of 140 years of its construction, nine architects have taken on the project. 

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Francisco de Paula del Villar

In 1872, Josep Maria Bocabella, inspired by the basilica at Loreto after a trip to Italy, harbored dreams of constructing a church. He enlisted the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar to design a Gothic revival church. Construction commenced on March 19, 1882, under Villar's direction, but he resigned a year later, on March 18, 1883. By that time, the apse crypt had been completed.

Sagrada Familia Architecture
Sagrada Familia Architecture

Domènec Sugrañes i Gras

Following Gaudí's passing, his primary disciple, Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, assumed responsibility for the project and diligently continued the work until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 brought the progress to a halt. 

Sugrañes had first met Gaudi in 1905, during his final year at the school of architecture, and the two collaborated on several of Gaudi’s projects, including the Bellesguard house, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. Over the course of the 10 years during which Sugrañes led the efforts on Sagrada, the Nativity Facade was successfully completed.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal

Following the conclusion of the Spanish War, Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal, a collaborator with Gaudi on the Sagrada Familia, assumed control of the project. Under his guidance, the construction of the Passion facade commenced.

Additionally, Quintana played a pivotal role in restructuring the Temple Board of the Sagrada Familia.

However, his most crucial task involved the reconstruction of models for the basilica that had been vandalized by anarchists during the war. The recreation of these plaster casts was integral to ensure Gaudi's vision for Sagrada Familia was not destroyed.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Isidre Puig Boada

Born in 1890, Isidre Puig Boada first met Gaudi in 1914 while he was still a student. 

He had been working with Gaudi, Gras and Vidal, on the Sagrada Familia. In 1950, Boada was appointed director of this construction. He continued in this role until 1974. 

His works El temple de la Sagrada Família (1929), L'església de la Colònia Güell (1976) and Gaudí's thoughts (1981), also serves as a great insight into Gaudí's political and social thoughts.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Lluís Bonet i Gari

A student of the Barcelona School of Architecture, he joined Isidre Puig i Boada and Francesc Quintana to continue the work on Sagrada Familia. He collaborated with them to work on the Passion façade. From 1974 to 1983, he assumed the position of project director. During this timeframe, he revisited his architectural roots, deeply influenced by Gaudí's style. In 1982, he experienced heart failure, prompting a professional step back. 

Nonetheless, he continued in his role as director for an additional year.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Francesc Cardoner

Francesc de Paula Cardoner i Blanch, who graduated in 1965, worked along with Isidre Puig i Boada and Lluís Bonet i Garí in the workshops of the Sagrada Familia Expiatory Temple. Between 1983 and 1985 he took on the role of the director of the project. He was also the architect of the Gaudí House-Museum in Park Güell under the direction of Josep Maria Garrut.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Jordi Bonet i Armengol

Son of Lluís Bonet i Gari, Jordi Bonet i Armengol , took on the role of construction director and coordinator of the Sagrada Família from 1987 to 2012. During his time, the work on Sagrada started becoming mechanized. He introduced the use of computers and technology into the design and construction process.

In 2012, when he stepped down as the director, he took on the role of Architect Emeritus and Advisor to the Board of Trustees

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Jordi Faulí i Oller

 In 2012, Jordi Faulí i Oller took over as the architect of the project and is the current director architect of the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia.

He joined the team of architects working on the basilica in 1990 when Armengol was the director. Under him, new technologies such as CAD, computer simulation, and 3D images were used to create a virtual plan of the temple so that the design envisioned by Gaudí could be recreated. In October 2015, Oller announced that 70% of the construction of Sagrada Familia was complete.

Sagrada Familia architecture & design

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Structure of Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia Architecture

Stages of construction of the Sagrada Familia

  • Foundation Laying (1882): The commencement of the project in 1882 marked the initiation of Antoni Gaudí's architectural vision, with the official laying of the foundation stone.
  • Nativity Facade (1894-1930): Gaudí dedicated his attention to the Nativity Facade during this period, showcasing his distinctive Art Nouveau style through intricate sculptures and nativity scenes.
  • Crypt and Apse (1915-1923): The completion of the crypt and apse, featuring innovative architectural elements and columns, occurred between 1915 and 1923.
  • Passion Facade (1954-1976): Construction on the Passion Facade started posthumously after Gaudí's death. It is characterized by sharp, angular sculptures depicting Christ's crucifixion.
  • Central Nave (1986-present): Ongoing efforts focus on the central nave, characterized by a captivating forest of columns and a majestic interior, with work continuing to the present day.
  • Glory Facade (work in progress): The largest and final facade, the Glory Facade, is currently under construction, with planned depictions of themes related to heaven and hell.
  • Interior Decorations (ongoing): There are continuous improvements and embellishments being made within the interior to improve Sagrada Familia 
  • Antoni Gaudí's Canonization (2021): The Catholic Church officially canonized Antoni Gaudí in 2021, providing recognition for his extraordinary architectural contributions to the Sagrada Familia.

Timeline: The Sagrada Familia Architectural Evolution

1882: Construction of the Sagrada Família began on 19 March 1882 with architect Francisco de Paula del Villar.

1883: In 1883, when architect Francisco de Paula del Villar resigned, Gaudí took over as chief architect of the Sagrada Família.

1926: At Gaudi's death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.

1936: In July 1936, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop, destroying many original plans and drawings.

1950: Restoration work began in 1950 after 16 years of piecing together fragments of the master model.

1960: In the 1960s, several frontrunners, including Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto, petitioned against this interpretation of Gaudi's original design.

2005: The construction continued, and in 2005, the monumental cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2022: Under new agreements with the La Sagrada Familia Foundation tied to the Government, current project architect Jordi Faulí i Oller has vowed to complete the installation of all eighteen towers by Gaudi's death centennial in 2026.

Exterior of Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Spires

The architectural design of the basilica incorporates eighteen spires, symbolically representing the Twelve Apostles, the Four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ in ascending order. As of 2010, eight spires have been constructed, with four gracing the Nativity façade and four adorning the Passion façade.

The central spire dedicated to Jesus Christ will be crowned with a monumental cross, while the four smaller spires will feature sculptures depicting the traditional symbols of the Evangelists—a bull (Saint Luke), a winged man (Saint Matthew), an eagle (Saint John), and a lion (Saint Mark). Upon completion, the Sagrada Família is poised to become the tallest church building in the world, a testament to its awe-inspiring design and symbolism.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Walls

In the construction of the Sagrada Família, the external walls bear the sole responsibility of supporting their own weight, as the weight and pressure from the vaults are transferred to the floor through internal columns. 

These walls feature numerous openings such as rose windows, ogives, and large windows, that  serve to significantly reduce the overall weight of the walls.

Antoni Gaudí employed hyperboloids extensively, aiming to implement the most effective technical and aesthetic solutions. This choice allowed sculptors to craft intricate details, including depictions of musician angels, singing angels, and the terminations of the pediments on these walls.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Roofs

The elevated roofs of the central nave feature a succession of interconnected pyramids, linked to both each other and the expansive windows by sizable paraboloids. These structures are topped with lampposts that incorporate references to the Holy Family.

The roof and vault, reaching approximately 25 meters, are organized into four levels, each connected by small spiral staircases. Meanwhile, the flat roofs of the lateral naves are designed to accommodate larger windows in the upper walls of the central nave.

 This architectural configuration not only provides structural support but also enhances the aesthetic appeal of the Sagrada Família's roofscape

Sagrada Familia Interior

Much like the exterior of the Sagrada Familia, the interiors are a showcase of Gaudi’s gothic naturalism architectural style.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Columns

Within the Sagrada Familia, the interior columns are crafted from various materials, each chosen to symbolize the hardness of distinct types of rock. 

The tallest and most robust columns are constructed from a coarse volcanic rock known as red porphyry. These particular columns provide essential support to the central five towers of the Sagrada Familia.

Smaller and darker columns, composed of basalt, form the outer row of columns that uphold the basilica.

The smallest columns are crafted from granite sourced from Montjuïc. The deliberate selection of these materials not only serves structural purposes but also contributes to the aesthetic and symbolic richness of the interior architecture.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Altar

An apse is a semicircular area inside a church, typically located behind the altar. The Sagrada Familia crypt is situated inside this half-circle area. Antoni Gaudí is among those buried in the crypt, as are other important figures in the history of architecture. Stairs leading to the upper levels are located on either side of the apse. The inside of the apse contains seven chapels, each with a different design and purpose.

To one side of the apse is a throne upon which Jesus Christ sits while on the cross. Surrounding the cross are sizeable stained glass windows. These windows fill the inside with light and color that change throughout the day. Behind the altar is another set of stairs leading to organ pipes that produce solemn music.

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Naves

Sagrada Familia's interior has five naves. 

The central nave rises higher and farther than the others, connecting with the transept on one side and ending in the choir with its chapels at the rear.

The altar stands before an impressive set of stained glass windows

Sagrada Familia Architecture

The Chapels

In the upper semicircular portion of the church, seven chapels encircle a central ambulatory and altar area. Stained glass windows adorn the space, heralding the arrival of the Messiah, invoked through seven distinct names.

The initials of each name combine to form the Latin phrase "Ero Cras," translating to "Tomorrow I will arrive."

Sagrada Familia | UNESCO World Heritage Site 

Recognized as Antoni Gaudí's most renowned work in his later years, Sagrada Familia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. 

This architectural marvel serves as an extraordinary example of the synthesis between modern and traditional Gothic styles. Gaudí envisioned the church as a unifying symbol, bringing together all religions through the use of modern engineering technology and new materials.

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Frequently asked questions about Sagrada Familia architecture

What is the Sagrada Familia architectural style?

Sagrada Familia's architecture follows the Late Spanish Gothic, Catalan Modernism, and Art Nouveau style.

Who designed Sagrada Familia?

Antoni Gaudi designed Sagrada Familia.

Why is the Sagrada Familia architecture famous?

The Sagrada Familia architecture is famous for its unusual construction style and modern engineering technology.

What was Sagrada Familia inspired by?

Sagrada Familia was inspired by the Loreto Basilica in Italy. The founder of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St John, Josep Maria Bocabella visited Italy in 1872 and was inspired to create a similar church in Barcelona.

When was Sagrada Familia built?

Sagrada Familia's construction began in 1882, and it's still in progress.

How old is Sagrada Familia?

Sagrada Familia is around 140 years old.

What's inside Sagrada Familia?

Sagrada Familia consists of stained glass windows, an altar, chapels, naves, columns, and facades.

What is on the exterior of Sagrada Familia?

Sagrada Familia's exterior consists of spires, tall roofs, carved walls, and large windows.

What is part of the interior of Sagrada Familia?

The columns, the altar, the chapels, the naves, etc., all are part of the interior of Sagrada Familia.

How big is Sagrada Familia?

Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church upon its completion in 2026, with the central tower reaching a height of 170 meters.

What are the dimensions of Sagrada Familia?

Sagrada Familia is 90 meters in length and 60 meters in width.

What is Sagrada Familia made out of?

Sagrada Familia is made of granite, stones, steel, glass, wood, etc.

Where can I buy tickets to Sagrada Familia?

You can purchase Sagrada Familia tickets online.

How is the Sagrada Familia funded?

The construction is funded through private donations, ticket sales, and various fundraising initiatives.

What is the significance of the Latin phrase "Ero Cras" associated with the chapels?

"Ero Cras" means "Tomorrow I will arrive" and is formed by combining the initials of names in the stained glass windows, symbolizing the anticipation of the Messiah's arrival.

How many spires does the Sagrada Familia have, and what do they represent?

The Sagrada Familia is planned to have 18 spires. They symbolize the Twelve Apostles, the Four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ.