The new 10D immersive experience at the Casa Batllo is a vivid journey through the mind of the Catalonia architect Antoni Gaudi. It opens up the gates to Gaudi’s philosophical ruminations about art, element and design. Famous artists and designers including Miguel Alonso, Refik Anadol etc, celebrate this with astonishing works of art like; an augmented reality walkthrough, Gaudi’s dome etc.
One such extravagant assemblage is Kengo Kuma’s chain cladded installation. The renowned Japanese design firm gives one of Casa Batllo’s atriums, a second but extraordinary skin. The installation along with the rest of the design experience was opened up to the public in May 2021 right after Casa Batllo’s restoration.
In a rather make or break situation, Kuma and associates successfully give justice to Gaudi’s design fanaticism in the form of this masterpiece. This metal mesh, covering an area of nearly 2000 sq. m is like a subtle dance of light through the chains, which embraces light as the powering source of Gaudi’s design credo.
Kuma mentions in an official statement, “With their meticulous materiality, the aluminium link chains catch the light, as if they were fishing nets, and show it to us in all its forms: brightness, silhouettes, shadows. This way, by omitting the use of any other materials, and erasing the presence of this blind box and its staircase using these chains, we can speak of light and light only.”
Kuma partnered up with the Spanish metal artwork supplier, Kriskadecor, to shape up the installation. It involved 184,000 meters of anodized aluminium link chains overlapping and changing shades throughout the atrium. The chains not only give the entirety of the space a metal mesh effect but also aid the creation of new discoverable spaces. Along with the involvement of light as the symbolism of the design, the team was also required to deal with sound neutralization. For this, the Montblanc Company worked to create very unique and innovative sound absorption panels. These panels were placed over the chains to counteract the noise.
The installation has a rather sculptural shape, which enhances the modernist architecture while celebrating Gaudi’s Art Nouveau. The chains are placed in a manner that leaves Gaudi’s organic spatial planning undisturbed by wrapping itself around the morphic form. What is important to note is how the majority of the elements at Casa Batllo have some inspiration attached to them. For instance, the Blue tiled atrium, which represents the depths of the ocean, the whimsical jellyfish-like glass panes etc. Kuma manages to pay tribute to the same in a way that these metal chains appear as biomorphic growth patterns, which appear to be waltzing over the atrium, spanning eight floors vertically. Every plant has an identity of its own in the brilliance of the Gaudi universe. The curves and credence of the chains add a certain motion to the space and create new volumes.
The Monochromatic Abstraction
Gaudi’s Casa Batllo is all about vibrancy. He boldly used multitudes of colours in different shades, tints and textures. However, with Kengo Kuma’s installation in place, the various shades of grey and a neutral monochromatic palette of chains elude the vibrancy of the house. We observe how dramatically, tones of grey gradually darken as we move from the top of the house to the bottom. The idea was to represent the spatial planning of the house, which moved from the light grey tones of the residential quarters into the black tone of the coal bunkers below. Another take on this is of the colour scheme representing the core of the blazing hearth, which eventually cocoons itself into the dim oblivion.
The Symbolism Of Light
At Casa Batllo, we see that Gaudi already added a creative diffusion of light by playing with window sizes and tile colours spanning the building. Kengo Kuma creates a rather lyrical commendation on the same ideology by incorporating the expertise of a very famous Italian light designer; Mario Nanni, of Viabizzuno. They emphasized the sinuous rhythm of the chains by carefully analyzing and creating perspective to maximize light on the top floors and gradually decreasing it uptil the dark bunkers.
To enhance the experience, these chains are designed to rest atop a plinth of LED strips that corresponds to the design’s verticality, emphasising the expression of neutrality, continuity, and transparency through the chains.
The entire chain art installation of the house has a very theatrical ending wherein the tour begins with an ascent across the eight floors full of vibrant Gaudi elements and gradually ending with a descent through the cascading grey link chains draping the atrium. The house explains all the movement patterns and stories spun with time, with its language of light. The brilliance of Kuma’s art installation is how it works on the philosophical aspects of Gaudi’s designs to give the house a certain serenity and tranquil aura.
To some, the extension of the modernist approach towards partaking Gaudi’s thoughts through art and technology, might feel like an unnecessary intervention to the 140 years old masterpiece. However, what is important to understand is how Kengo Kuma has actually managed to capture the essence of Gaudi’s design mind, by understanding how the famous architect must have thought. He has created this art installation as nothing less than the perfect tribute to Antoni Gaudi’s philosophy of organicity and architectural magic in any shape and form.