August 22, 2004
Gaudí's Unfinished Masterpiece Is Virtually Complete
By VALERIE GLADSTONE
WHEN the revolutionary Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí died in 1926, a battle broke out here among politicians and architects over whether to complete his spectacular Sagrada Familia church. He began work on it in 1883, but at the time of his death it was only 15 percent complete.
Purists asked if anyone but the architect himself could carry out his fantastic, surrealistic plans, which included towers topped with sculptures of local fruit and a central nave designed to look like a forest.
Eventually, the various factions agreed that his surviving plans were sufficient to guide the project, and construction went forward. But in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the crypt and Gaudí's study, which held many of his notes and designs, were destroyed by shelling.
Though work resumed in 1952, it has gone very slowly. More than 50 years later, the church is still only 40 percent finished. (It now holds 4,000 people; when it reaches its final circumference, 295 by 196 feet, it will accommodate 14,000.) The Junta Constructora del Templo, which oversees the project, optimistically predicts that it will be done in 30 years.
Toni Meca, 41, a Barcelona advertising executive and film producer, was not willing to wait. "I wanted to finish the cathedral virtually because I knew it would be the only way for many people to see it completed," he said in a recent interview here. "It is the most important building in the world. Even a child can respond to it because Gaudí based his designs almost solely on forms found in nature."
So Mr. Meca set out to construct the cathedral in 3-D. He had made 3-D models of buildings for his work in advertising, but never anything so complex, so he recruited a series of technical experts — and pieced together contributions from, among others, Microsoft, Compaq/HP and Intel. All told, 150 people worked on the project in some capacity.
The team began by studying all of Gaudí's buildings and interpreting the plans, drawings and models for the cathedral. Then they shot 7,000 photos to capture every detail of its interior and exterior, including bell towers, elaborately ornamented facades and spectacular spiral staircases, as well as the apses, chapels and crypt, where Gaudí is buried. Then they built perfectly proportioned copies of all the church's figures and decorations, which technicians turned into computer models — an especially time-consuming process because Gaudí usually did not use straight lines or repeat motifs. The degree of detail in computer models is measured in units called polygons; the finished Sagrada Familia model required 35 million polygons, more than 10 times the number used to create the model of the ship in the film "Titanic."
For parts of the church for which there were no plans, Mr. Meca and his associates had to try to figure out what Gaudí intended based on his designs for other buildings. The final touch was making everything look real, with sophisticated lighting and textures.
The virtual Sagrada Familia can be seen on a CD-ROM, available at www.tmdreams.com. "Glory Day," a film currently in production, will tell the story of the cathedral from its inception. All in all, the virtual construction project took seven years. "I'm not sure I would have done it," Mr. Meca said, "if I'd known how tough it would be."