Deciding the compelling force behind anything is presumptuous. So, when this week’s Art News determined that early 20th-century Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi ‘changed the face of modern architecture,’ it warrants discussion.

Big effect

Claire Selvin, the associate editor at Art News, contends that Gaudi’s fanciful facades hold sway over modern architecture. In her words, “His idiosyncratic, madcap style pushed the boundaries of 20th-century architectural conventions.”

Missing persons

But here’s the thing. Nowhere in her article does Selvin identify an architect who was or is impacted by Gaudi’s elaborate designs.

Not one. Instead, she recounts his life and many of his projects, such as the residential Casa Vicens in Barcelona, which features fiery red detailing and dazzling checkered tiles.

Naming names

So allow me to offer possible modernists impacted by Gaudi - though not necessarily in a good way.

Frank Gehry can be said to continue where Gaudi left off, but runs wildly with it into unconventionality, not only skipping straight lines but also right angles. So, instead of Gaudi’s undulating ceramic-like surfaces, you get a mishmash of metal resembling an explosion in a tin mine. His design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao comes to mind.

Dutch master

Another architect that one might say is influenced by Gaudi’s fanciful facades is the Dutch master builder Rem Koolhas.

I’m thinking of his design for the Seattle Central Library with its dizzying sets of cantilevers, each set at odd angles from the other.

At a tilt

Then there’s Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid whose design for the Library and Learning Centre at the Vienna University of Economics and Business is so free form, it can be bewildering to behold.

It also tilts a whopping 35 degrees. (The Leaning Tower of Pisa leans six degrees). As well, her ribbon windows appear to go completely off-line.

As off-putting as Hadid’s project is, the Architecture Digest prized it for excellence in the category of new university buildings. Britain’s leading architect critic Rowan Moore was less than enthused.

As he has written for The Guardian, users of her buildings experience many difficulties.

Thumbs down

Gehry has likewise been panned. Architectural Review faulted his work for defying the notion of function. Rem Koolhaas hasn’t fared well with critics, either. Wouter Vanstiphout, professor of design at Delft University, has said that his work in Amsterdam “is a cynical and brutal monument to the city’s delusions of grandeur.”

Missing the mark

So, while these architects are as unconventional as Gaudi, their extravagancies don’t come off like his. His work was individualized, yes. But despite his one-of-a-kind style, people love it. Sagrada Familia is reportedly the most-visited monument in Spain.

He gives you free form, but it welcomes you rather than weirds you out.

At home

To that point, this week’s ArchDaily reports the International Highrise Award and it conjures up Gaudi in a good way. The winning design is Norra Tornen, residential towers in Sweden designed by Reinier de Graaf. Notably, the criteria for the award - “sculptural qualities” - bears the mark of Gaudi.

Also notable: De Graaf said he was surprised by the award. To hear him tell it, the residence isn’t some high-rise for the history books. It’s just a place he calls “homey.” Livable architecture. What a concept.

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