Despite his shy and reserved character, Antoni Gaudí was a curious child with a boundless imagination. Contrary to what happens to most of us as we get older, the curious and magical spirit of childhood stayed with Gaudí throughout his life and was reflected in his work. Perhaps this is why his works never fail to motivate and capture children’s attention.
Children look at the world with a unique and amazing perspective. Through their questions they challenge the paradigms that we adults have already internalised, in the same way that Gaudí challenged the conventions of architecture with his curved lines and improvisation.
We’d like to share an interesting story with you.
A few weeks ago, during the “Gaudí Universe” activity that we organise for school groups, Almudena, one of our monitors, showed the children images of the Casa del Guarda (Park Güell), specifically the tower crowned by the recreation of an amanita muscaria, where the white spots on the mushroom are actually coffee cups (Gaudi’s wink at the fact that coffee was bad for him; his doctor forbade him to drink it because of his hypertension). “Children, who knows what the white dots on the mushroom really are? (Dramatic pause). I’ll give you a clue. It’s something that you use at home every morning at breakfast time”. Expecting the students to think about the cups their parents drink their coffee from, or which they have their cereals in, the answer couldn’t have been more surprising. “Nespresso capsules!” said the braver of them. A strange answer? No, not at all.
At birth we are like a blank sheet. We need many years of exploration to be able to internalise culture, relationships between things, knowledge, society and the language that will eventually lead us to an understanding of what’s around us. Slowly we come to understand how the world works, but that doesn’t mean that our development is complete. We continue to edit and re-write our life as we live it.
Between the age of three and five, children develop their motor skills, social skills, their imagination, the ability to follow instructions, to think visually and to understand and express emotions. The way in which they see the world, and how they act in and with it, is closely linked to these developmental stages. Pre-school children are not even capable of measuring time and, until the age of 12, they don’t start to assimilate information in a way that allows them to understand the world in the same way as adults do.
This is why children don’t see a cloud; they see a dog or a bear. And they really see it. And, because their referents are no longer our childhood referents, where we see cups, they see coffee capsules.
Gaudí didn’t see a church, but rather a forest of trees (columns) with branches (ramifications) and foliage (vaults), and that enabled him to imagine that each tree supported its foliage without the need for neighbouring trees. He was an atypical architect who rarely made detailed plans of his works himself. He saw the whole project in his mind, he sketched his ideas and then gave shape to them in three-dimensional models which allowed him to better test the support structure. He wasn’t an architect–sculptor but a sculptor-architect. He changed his plans constantly and was able to improvise as he went along. He was a great mathematician and calculated with accurate precision each one of the elements that formed his buildings.
His originality lies in the fact that he thought about how things were constructed by nature. He preferred curved lines to straight lines and his decorative work is full of shells, animal limbs and all sorts of details. His arches, columns and façades reflect this.
By looking at Gaudí’s work, children can learn about and assimilate the colours, shapes, volumes and sizes. They see an adult who, like them, believes that anything can be coloured and improved using creativity and the imagination. That’s why they leave the Gaudí Experiència visit brimming with new creative stimuli.