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Work in Progress: Casa Vicens

Photos: Pol Viladoms

Casa Vicens, Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudí (1883-1889)

Casa Vicens is the first house designed by Antoni Gaudí and it is the seed of his later work. It’s considered one of the first buildings of Art-Nouveau and it was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 2005 for its universal value. Through its architectural and ornamental features, the building helps explain the origin, and the main elements that ended up defining not only Gaudí’s impressive career, but also a new chapter in the history of modern architecture.
When designing the project, commissioned by stockbroker Manuel Vicens in 1883, Gaudí, who was only 30 and had just left university, had his first opportunity ever to deploy all his skills and creative genius. Therefore, it is obvious that the house has an intrinsic value to be emphasized as an essential visit in the Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona.

Mercedes Mora, executive manager of Casa Vicens, gives us a look behind the scenes.

Who is the owner of Casa Vicens?
The private company Amura Capital bought the house in March 2014. Amura Capital is a subsidiary of the Andorran MoraBanc, which is hundred percent Mora family owned and is being managed now by the family’s 4th generation. The Mora family and Amura Capital share the aim to open Casa Vicens to the public for the first time. The sense of commitment with arts and culture, protecting World Heritage, sustainibility, and a long term vision helped in the decision to bring this project to reality.

Who are working on bringing Casa Vicens back to live?
We are a multidisciplinary team formed by professionals who work closely together on many subjects such as museology, operational marketing, research, finance, organization and communication. I work in the headquarters as the executive director of the project, together with Marta Antuñano who is in charge of artistic and museological coordination. Architects Elias Torres, Jose Antonio Martinez Lapeña and David Garcia, who have already worked in other UNESCO declared World Heritage sites before, are conducting the architectural restoration. Jordi Falgàs, with his background as director of Casa Masó in Girona, is in charge of the museological plan. So, Amura Capital as owner, MoraBanc, the executive management and the rest of the team, all work together to open Casa Vicens as a house museum late 2016.

Are you developing a conservation management plan?
Yes we are. The expected high visitors rates and physical constraints of the building imposes a reflection on the possible risks of inaccurate planning. This risk factor requires therefore, a careful planning and management of the entire process which the whole team is taking into account.

What is your role?
I’m the executive manager of the project and also member of the Mora family, so I also represent the property.

What about the design of Casa Vicens is of most value to you?
In this early work of Antoni Gaudí we can follow his passion for nature and Casa Vicens reflects all biodiversity that spontaneously surrounded the original territory where the property is located. Gaudí manages to turn these forms of nature in a unique architectural piece that holds a continous dialogue between the garden and the roof with the interior of the house. Following the line of Arts & Crafts and providing functionality to all materials and natural forms that he used in the construction of the house, Gaudí achieved something special: the visit is almost like being in front of a global and unique piece of art, where exterior and interior speak of nature and brimming with colors.

I’m impressed about its modernity, considering it was built between 1883 and 1889 and the fact that one of the first examples of the aesthetic renewal of art and architecture that took place across Europe in the late nineteenth century. Beyond Arts & Crafts and Orientalist elements that characterize Casa Vicens, it represents one of the first buildings of Art Nouveau.

What is the biggest challenge with regard to the restoration?
Once you turn an iconic house into a museum space the challenge is twofold: on one hand, the preservation and restoration of the original Gaudí structure and its decorative elements, like tiles and plasters, while we also make it accessible to as many visitors as possible. In other words, our main goal is the conservation of this precious legacy while we provide the best interpretive tools for visitors of all ages and origins to spend their time here as a learning experience. Moreover, we must stress the fact that one needs to visit Casa Vicens in order to understand the origins and development of Gaudí’s architecture.

Some parts of the house and the original decoration were either demolished or unrecoverably altered, but thanks to the current restoration project, it can be said that during the visit we will be able to see the house designed by Gaudi, almost as original as the architect gave his client in 1888.

Will Casa Vicens be open to the public and what purpose will it serve?
According to what has been said so far, the mission of Casa Vicens as a house museum is to present the first Gaudí house, presenting it as an essential work to understand his unique architectural language and the development of Art Nouveau in Barcelona.
This involves transforming it from the strictly private residential building that it has been until now into a museum. We also consider converting some of the spaces to a centre of dissemination of Catalan ‘modernism’ and architecture.

How many visitors can the house host and do you expect? How will the house be managed?
For us, the quality of the visit will always be more important than the quantity of visitors. Nowadays technology offers the possibility to plan your visit in advance and make sure you will access the house when you get here to avoid the frustration of waiting in line or not being able to enter the house.

When do you expect the renovation to be completed?
We hope the restoration and renovation will be completed in fall 2016.

Date of publication: 20 August 2015