The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.

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New star atop Spain’s Sagrada Familia to illuminate Barcelona skyline

The brand new Virgin Mary tower will be inaugurated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. A 12-point star on top of it will illuminate the Barcelona skyline.

New star atop Spain's Sagrada Familia to illuminate Barcelona skyline
Operators use a tower crane to install a giant star atop the Mare de Deu tower (the Virgin Tower) of the Sagrada Familia Basilica, on November 29, 2021 in Barcelona. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

At 138 metres, the Virgin Mary tower (Mare de Déu tower in Catalan) will be the second-tallest in Gaudí’s still unfinished masterpiece, and will be inaugurated to mark the Immaculate Conception holiday on December 8, following a mass and the blessing of the tower.

People around the world will be able to witness the historic lighting of the star at 7:40pm, which will be streamed online.

The Virgin Mary tower, the latest addition to the basilica and the ninth tower of the 18 envisioned by Gaudí, was inaugurated on Monday. According to the Sagrada Família’s chief architect Jordi Faulí, the star atop it “will change the city’s skyline”.

The basilica, which has been under construction since 1882, was due to be completed on the centenary of the architect Antoni Gaudí’s death in 2026, but this is now unlikely to happen due to delays caused by the pandemic.

Weighing 5.5 tonnes and made out of textured glass, the star was lifted to the top of the tower on November 29.

Photographs of the star were posted on The Sagrada Família’s Twitter account. “The Sagrada Família lifted the star of the Virgin Mary into place. This was a historic moment, as it is the final piece of the tower and changes the Barcelona skyline,” the post read.

People around the world have been invited to participate in the illumination of Barcelona’s most famous landmark by sending their digital flashes of light on the Sagrada Familia and Archdiocese websites.

The base of the tower was lit up on December 4th, from 8pm to 11pm, followed by the shaft of the tower on December 6 before the star is turned on on the evening of December 8.

Celebrations by local organisations and groups will take place until January 4th.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion date for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia