Brief

Barcelona’s famed and enormously complex Sagrada Família basilica has been under construction for 138 years, enduring many complications over the decades. But help has arrived with the very modern use of computers and robotics that can execute the highly detailed stone carving required.

 

Insight

Barcelona’s most famous landmark has all the makings of a fantastic blockbuster movie: politically savvy priests, robots, vigilante revolutionaries, the husband of the Virgin Mary, a seemingly mad but brilliant architect, vandals, desecrators, and 138 years of a still-unfolding plot.

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The Basilica de la Sagrada Família is, by a rather large margin, among the world’s most complicated and time-consuming architectural projects ever undertaken — still under construction over the heads of four million annual visitors. While technically a basilica (as it does not have a sitting bishop), somehow even the word cathedral seems too miniscule to fully describe the overwhelming scale and complexity of both this massive building and the geological timescales of its construction.

A family Affair

The idea for the building began in 1882 when a small group of Catholic devotees of the Saint Joseph (the husband of the Virgin Mary) known as the Josephites, dedicated to encouraging family cohesion in the face of the emerging industrial revolution, sought to build a small parish church on the outskirts of then suburban Barcelona. In order to promote this familial focus, the church was to be dedicated to the holy family itself, and thus was eventually named the Basilica de la Sagrada Família, the Church of the Holy Family.

What the Josephites could not have known was that their modest project, in the hands of an ambitious young Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, whose only built projects at that time consisted of a gazebo, some furniture, a kiosk and set of lamp posts, would balloon into one of the most ambitious, visionary, unusual, and long-lived architectural projects in the history of humanity — currently clocking in at 138 years of construction, which, for comparison, is over six times as long as it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. And it’s still not finished.

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