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25 August 2016

Work in Progress: Capricho de Gaudí

The Capricho (1883-1885) represents the starting point for Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). This early work is full of passion and originality and includes all the ingredients for which Gaudí is world-famous. One of the few buildings designed by Gaudí outside Catalonia, the Capricho is in the Modernist town of Comillas on the Northern Spanish coastline. Throughout the Capricho’s interior, exterior and gardens, are colourful and creative design elements inspired by nature and full of symbolism. Many of the materials, styles and concepts developed here were later used at Barcelona’s Park Güell, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Família.

Carlos Mirapeix, Managing Director of the Capricho de Gaudí, gives us a look behind the scenes.

Who is the owner of the Capricho de Gaudí?
The Capricho is privately owned by a company called El Capricho de Gaudí S.A. in Comillas. All activity is financed directly by visitor admission fees. The Capricho doesn’t receive any public assistance or financial aid.

Tell us about the major changes to the structure since it was completed
The Capricho closely resembles what Gaudí designed in 1883 but as with any building of its age – it has witnessed changes. The most aggressive was the first renovation in 1914 when the original conservatory and the Arabic tiles were removed. The second renovation in 1988 saw the re-introduction of the conservatory and the tiles also. But some smaller mistakes were made that we are trying to rectify today.

What is your role? Who are the other key members of the team?
Together with the Head of Maintenance, Jesús Pérez, I am responsible for the conservation of the building on a day to day basis. The owner and CEO, Taketo Kurosawa, is also actively involved and we have a network of collaborators and external assessors that assist with sensitive or specialised aspects of the conservation.

What is the biggest conservation challenge for the Capricho?
Our biggest challenge is the damp. Designed by a Mediterranean architect but located in a more Northerly climate, humidity has always been the building’s main enemy. The deterioration of the exterior ceramics, due to the wind and proximity to the sea, is another constant source of concern.

Have you or are you developing a conservation management plan?

Our Annual Plan covers everything from visitor experience to conservation. We schedule most projects from November to January but there are often emergencies that aren’t captured in any document.

What are your restoration objectives?
In the short term, we want to restore the lower ground floor where the kitchens and servants’ quarters were located. And we’d like to reinstate the hydraulic tile flooring as it was originally. Both of those projects will really contribute to the overall visitor experience. In the long term, replacing the conservatory and preserving the tower are our priorities.

How well documented is the Capricho? Can you refer to old photos and sketches?
Unfortunately, the original drawings and plans were burned in a fire in Gaudí’s studio inside the Sagrada Família, so our conservation work is based on the few old photos we have and what we can decipher from the building itself.

Is funding available from state, regional or EU sources for any elements of the building’s conservation?
We describe ourselves as independent and sustainable because the work we carry out is financed by visitors’ fees. Thankfully the building is currently in a very good state of repair. We’d never rule out asking for assistance if the architectural integrity of the building were to become compromised.

The Capricho is open to the public practically every day of the year – when can you carry out conservation work?
We close the building for a week every Winter – it’s absolutely frenetic because there’s so much we need to get done!

Has your vision for the museum changed or evolved since it opened its doors to the public in 2010?
Everything has changed. When we opened, the financial picture was bleak and our focus was very much on saving the building. Soon enough, we realised we had to focus on the visitor experience. Today, our aim is to provide the highest of standards in every aspect of the Capricho.

What are current visitor numbers? Do you foresee any growth?
In our first year we had 100,000 visitors. Numbers have continued to grow and today we receive 130,000 visitors. Rather than driving more demand, our objective is to maintain those numbers and continue to improve the visitor experience.

What is it like to work in a space designed by Gaudí?
Everything we do takes place inside the Capricho – our offices are here, our staff eat here, and we even meet our suppliers in a room designed by Gaudí. You can’t but feel a really special connection with the building. And it’s amazing that five years after opening, we are still making fresh discoveries about the house.

What about the design of El Capricho de Gaudí is of most value to you?
In addition to the recognisable Gaudí style, which we love, we really appreciate how advanced the design was for its time. As you get to know the Capricho better and better, that’s what really impresses!

What tips or advice would you pass on to somebody embarking on something similar?
Managing a space such as this is both inspiring and exhausting! Every day is different. We’ve learned that being self-financing, flexible with the running of the place and agile with decision-making is the best way forward. In fact, the term ‘eternal beta version’ probably sums up life at the Capricho perfectly.

Publication date 25 August 2016