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Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia gets building permit after 137 years (apnews.com)
240 points by antigizmo 12 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

The article misses an important bit of info: when the construction started, the Sagrada Familia was not in Barcelona, but in an independent municipality, Sant Martí de Provençals. It was to this municipality that the building permit was requested, not to Barcelona, which would annex the municipality and with it, the Sagrada Familia, 15 years later. Plus, most of the documentation regarding the building, including plans, scale models etc. were destroyed in a fire caused by anarchists when the Civil War started. The story is more complex than just incompetent bureaucracy.

I was very impressed when I visited the museum under the Sagrada Familia and saw photos of the beginning of construction, when the church was in the middle of large hay fields with no buildings around. Now it's nearly in the middle of the city!

We should remember that this was more than 100 years ago. 100 years is a long time. A lot of our collective subconscious is still acting like we’re stuck in 1982, but the XX century is long over.

Not sure exactly what point you are trying to make.

That it’s not that impressive that a city will grow significantly in 100 years.

Ahem! Born in 2001.

I would listen to a podcast episode or read a book about this. It sounds like an interesting story!

99% Invisible recently did an episode about its history: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/la-sagrada-familia-2/

Can you elaborate more on this "fire caused by anarchists", please?

Thanks, I'll look into it.

(From the downvote, someone apparently didn't appreciate my asking).

Sagrada Familia looks like an amalgamation of Spanish culture, its incomplete nature acts like an amalgamation of Spanish culture, and your story only reinforces that

It doesn't matter how it got there, that history IS Spanish culture and it doesn't make anyone sympathetic to the outcome.

Its just "yep."

OP was simply adding details of the history - not sure why you are taking a defensive tone

The engineering work for Sagrada Familia was insanely clever. Gaudi build a scale model including accurate weights for the building materials, upside-down, out of strings and weights. That way he could design non-vertical pillars that branch like trees and where all the stresses were carried by compression through the stonework. It is really a marvel of pre-computer technical design!

[1] https://memetician.livejournal.com/201202.html

[2] https://criticalista.com/2012/08/16/gaudis-hanging-chain-mod...

This video explains the use of chains to determine arch shape: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlL6ZHChhQE

This is a great video, thanks. The mentioned catenary shape is a cosh (Cosinus Hyperbolicus, i.e. 1/2(exp(x) + exp(-x)) or cos(ix)) and decidedly not a parabola.

Wikipedia contains a derivation: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catenary (the one on the German Wikipedia is a bit more explicit)

https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A4ngemodell https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettenlinie_(Mathematik)

NB, the line taken by the cables of a suspension bridge with a deck of uniform weight is a parabola. I think this is what causes the popular confusion.

Why are upside down strings an accurate model for compressed stone?

To an excellent approximation, a structure made entirely of string and weights has tension on the strings but no shear stress on the string. (This is because string is floppy — if you pull gently on a string, you’ll pull the other end toward you but not sideways.). If the whole structure dangles without moving, that means that all the forces (tension and gravity) balance everywhere. If you flip the sign of all forces, tension turns into compression, gravity pulls the other way, there is still no shear, and the whole thing still stays put. Now you have an upside down cathedral with upside down gravity, which is more or less the same thing as a right side up cathedral with right side up gravity.

There are plenty of ways this can go wrong. The little weights Gaudí used might not correctly model the weight of the stone. The whole thing might be unstable under inevitable sideways forces from wind and such, although one could blow on the string model to make sure it doesn’t start swinging to approximate this. And the string model probably doesn’t say much about the distribution of compression loads in the stone, especially if the overall structure is not statically determinate.

Taking this a bit farther, here are some simple examples illustrating stability and static determinacy.

Imagine a single weight dangling from two strings of roughly equal lengths attached near other on the ceiling. The weight will swing if you blow on it. If you turn the strings into (lightweight) compression elements and turn the whole thing upside down, it will be a bipod. The weight will indeed be balanced, but any slight perturbation will knock it over or will at least require shear forces to avoid this fate.

Now try this with three strings. The weight will resist swinging if you blow on it, and the cathedralized version is a stable tripod.

Now try four strings. If the string model is imperfect, one string might be slack. If you cathedralize it, you get a quadropod, and, if the construction is at all imperfect, the loads on the four legs might be wildly different and, if it’s too far off, the structure might wobble. This structure is statically indeterminate.

There is, strictly speaking, nothing strictly wrong with static indeterminacy, but it makes the analysis considerably more complicated.

why is this approximate and not exact?

Strings really do have some stiffness. In a piano, this causes harmonics to be slightly more than an octave apart, leading to stretched tuning. Cotton strings won’t be as still as metal strings, but the effect still exists.

Another issue is that Gaudí used a bunch of little weights instead of weighted strings. This means that he’s modeling stone columns with all the weight concentrated in a few places, which isn’t quite right.

I'm not sure why, but in nature, any compressed stone arch's profile must fit within the profile of a hanging chain. This includes load bearing -- you can model the arch shape by adding weights to the chain.

This is only really relevant to cases where the loads are higher than the weight of the arch/chain (manmade arches typically are just symmetrical as the loads are far less than the arch's).

I'm sure someone here is capable of elegantly describing these loads in the language of math to describe the same conclusion. That's not really the why part, just a different language for explaining it.

That's an interesting factoid I've never thought about before. Here's my guess why it's true.

In a hanging chain, the sum of the forces pulling down (due to gravity/load) and away from the end (due to tension) on a given link must point in a direction exactly opposite the angle of the next chain link toward the end. Else that chain link would rotate until the above is true.

In a stone arch, the sum of the forces pushing down (due to gravity/load) and toward the base (due to compression) on a given stone must point in a direction exactly equal to the next stone toward the base. Else that stone would rotate and the arch would break.

I don't understand much about questions of why in nature. It sounds like you're arguing that it must be as such, but given your explanation is true (and it seems a reasonable proposal), I don't know if it tells me why.

My favourite part of the tour was when they mention that Gaudi died in a tram accident, without any further details.

So I had to research that part on my own.

Trams at the time ran at around 10kph.

Supposedly he saw a tram coming, took a step back and got hit by another tram.

As his main concerns were architecture and the church, he looked homeless.

Some time after the accident, someone did call for a doctor who declared him dead.

Some time later, he was brought to a hospital, provided the care that a beggar would receive and died 3 days later. Only being identified some time after being admitted.

Given that it was 1926 and he was almost 74, it’s hard to say how much immediate care would have helped anyway.

> As his main concerns were architecture and the church, he looked homeless.

Career goals. I feel like I'm already halfway there.

The company I work for has actually been doing the engineering design work to finish the building. Pretty amazing how much was accomplished back in the day without computer aid.


I visited a week ago, and it was one of the most awe-inspiring buildings I've ever been in. It gave me hope for humanity that we still have the ambition to complete multi-generational projects like this. Thank you for your contribution!

Wish I could say I've worked on it personally! Have to agree that it's an amazing project

Great work -- something you should be very proud of. I was last there in 2006. I remember the tour guide telling me the building would be completed within 10 years. It is such a massive collection of both art and science I can see why it is taking many years to complete. My wife and I plan to visit it again once it is finished -- it was one of the first places we vacationed together.

I found this old rendering of what still needs to be built - the scale is just fantastic!


Wow. Just when I think it's done, another structure emerges, bigger than the last. It's pretty impressive that we can sustain projects like these when they offer only cultural value.

Many locals (and at any rate this local) see the Sagrada Família as it currently is as a rather unhappy travesty. There are no construction plans by Gaudí, just a few sketches, and what architects are doing is mostly theme-park architecture: making concrete look like stone, for example. It would have been much preferable to leave it as it was in 1926.

Many locals (and at any rate this local) see the Sagrada Família as it currently is as a rather unhappy travesty. There are no construction plans by Gaudí, just a few sketches, and what architects are doing is mostly theme-park architecture: making concrete look like stone, for example. It would have been much preferable to leave it as it was in 1926.

Coming from a city that is having a bit of an identity crisis and relies heavily on tourist money, the impression I got of Barcelona is that the city itself is very much a theme park for English tourists. It really seemed like Catalan culture was whitewashed pretty successfully (e.g. pintxos everywhere). In terms of combating that theme-park mentality, Sagrada Família is certainly not where I'd start (then again I don't live in Barcelona).

Parc Güell was especially over the top and cartoonish, less in the architecture, but more in the throngs of selfie sticks. It's gone from a thoughtfully designed park to a caricature.

Sagrada Família was, OTOH, a pretty stark contrast. I did the self-guided audio tour and went up into the Nativity facade (not the newer one) and was just floored. I fully expected the audio tour to be full of self-promotion, but even the 99PI episode on Sagrada Família left me with the impression that Gaudí wanted to see SF completed and that currently painstaking effort is being made to keep things as true to his desires as possible.

Obviously things won't be done exactly as Gaudí would've done them, but that's an artifact of technology changing over time. Much like any other aged building, Sagrada Família would've needed a restoration at some point. For better or worse, the primary function of Sagrada Família is as a museum / tourist destination and it's been that way for many years.

Most cathedrals took generations to build and diverged from the initial plans during their construction. It is not uncommon that even architectonic styles changed, and the final result was a mixture of romanic and gothic, for example.

Sagrada Familia may be an unhappy travesty, but every cathedral is, and few have such a consistent style. Even our cities are unhappy travesties, and I do not think that leaving the unfinished works of deceased architects unfinished would change that.

You have all the right to dislike how it is being done, and it may be not exactly what Gaudí thought, but trying to finish it was, in my opinion, the right decision. When you are in the middle of a task that will take generations, it makes sense trying to continue even if some accident happens, like your main architect getting killed by a tram or documents getting lost.

I'd say our conception of art, and architecture in particular, has changed substantially since the heyday of the Gothic cathedral. We now don't think of buildings as a communal, multigenerational effort.

> every cathedral is

Actually, contemporary cathedrals (of which more than a few have been built in the XXth and XXIst centuries) are typically completed in a reasonable timeframe. 5 years for Moneo's Our Lady of the Angels; 3 years for Hartman's Cathedral of Christ the Light, and so on.

By the way, the Sagrada Família is not a cathedral, but a basilica, but that is neither here nor there :)

Not an expert in the subject, but my understanding is that Gaudí was aware that the project would not be completed in his lifetime, but wanted it to be completed anyway, and even counted with future technology for help (i.e. some of his ideas could not be realized at his time, but he thought technology would advance enough to implement them after his death).

So leaving it as it was in 1926 would actually have been against Gaudí's will, and from that standpoint, continuing it was the right thing to do. I will not comment on decisions taken on the particular execution, as I don't have the knowledge, although as a layman I did like it a lot when I visited around 3 years ago.

Had the privilege of going after this past KubeCon EU (which was in Barcelona a few weeks ago). It was the most awe inspiring building I've ever seen. A true modern wonder. Wound up just sitting in the pews for a while taking it all.

I took some photos but they definitely don't do it anywhere close to justice.


In order to really capture the beauty of the interior, you have to pick the right angle and then force your camera to accentuate color. The interior is magical in a way that can be hard for a point-and-shoot to capture without fiddling. Of course, the internet being what it is, a google image search for "sagrada familia interior" brings up a few great examples like https://cdn.barcelonalowdown.com/barcelona-lowdown/uploads/2...

Absolutely. Add to that the fact that the inside looks different at different times of the day due to which windows accentuate the inside.

Hm, really, you are right. Now I need to visit Sagrada Familia again, multiple times - at different hours. And it's a good thing :) Thanks!

Yeah, the whole affair was about Barcelona getting a cut of the money from Sagrada Familia.

> Barcelona officials said the city will be paid 4.6 million euros ($5.2 million) in fees under an agreement negotiated with a foundation devoted to completing and preserving La Sagrada Familia.

Of course the city is interested in getting a (larger) cut of the money.

However, the Sagrada Familia is already a massive benefit for the city due to the visitors it attracts. Its administrators could've just raised the middle finger and Barcelona would definitely not have tore it down nor stopped its construction.

Why did they enter the agreement then? The Sagrada Familia's original plans include a number of gardens that span outside of its current land. With this agreement in place, now the city can officially start making plans to eventually evict residents in the affected land space, freeing it up for the monument's gardens.

Yeah I was waiting for the article to explain why the building permit mattered until they mentioned the fee millions of tourists pay to go see it every day and it became obvious the city just wanted a piece of that.

Why else would they demand $5.2M for a building permit.

My favorite picture from Wikipedia [1], simply put it is just an amazing work.

Article itself [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia#/media/Fi...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia

Have you seen the building?? The picture at the top of the article is a small portion of the back. The thing is freaking giant.

I would expect there are some infrastructure requirements for that level of foot traffic in the area too?

Although there’s a huge halo effect in terms of taxing nearby businesses too.

Why should a church get a free ride?

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."



Please don't post political or ideological flamebait here.


Hum, the history of the Catholic Church and democracy is a bit special in Spain, in particular in Catalonia.

Care to explain?

Nice. I went to la sagrada familia today and this becomes hacker news top post.


There are various live performances worth a listen.

I am linking just because this project is awesome and some moving music just makes sense.

"Bureaucrats file paperwork! On other news..."

That’s still faster than getting a permit in San Francisco.

781 12 months ago [flagged]

And look at that height... This would never be approved in SF, ruins the local character.

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