Puig i Cadafalch received the title of architect from the University of Barcelona in 1891, at age 24. The following year he obtained the post of municipal architect of the city of Mataró (1892-1896) which, because of his great inquisitiveness he would soon outgrow. By 1895 he started to receive commissions in Barcelona, where he built the finest houses for the bourgeoisie of the moment and projected important urban changes (Montjuïc and Plaça de Catalunya), which for political reasons did not materialize. His career as an architect is very personal and coincided with Modernism and Noucentisme; however, he would often see this career diminished, first due to his devotion to politics, and later because of his years of exile and subsequent purging.
His legacy is immense and multidisciplinary. With the passage of time, increasing value has been conferred on both his figure and his magnificent work.
(Text by Montserrat Blanch. Puig i Cadafalch Year, 2001)
The eclectic architect.
Puig was an eclectic architect. Too young to classify all his work within Modernism and too old to conclude it within Noucentisme.
This eclecticism will manifest itself in several directions at the same time.
On the one hand, his enormous knowledge of the history of architecture will enable him to incorporate, throughout his professional life, influences and elements from Greek, Gothic and Arabic architecture, as well as architecture from the whole of the Iberian Peninsula and from the various currents of European Modernism and American architecture.
Similarly, Puig incorporated influences from different styles in the same building: Ionic columns, Noucentista garlands, Baroque tribunes, medieval windows, Arab visual sequences, and medieval German or Dutch influences. Later, there will be all the European modalities of Modernism—which he was perfectly familiar with—such as the Belgian of Van der Velde or Víctor Horta, the Austrian of Wagner and Olbrich, the English of Voysey or the Scottish of Mackintosh.
But the influence that most characterizes him is, undoubtedly, that of Gothic architecture. Inspired by the Gothic, Puig claimed, “All my works are born from the same source: an attempt to renew Gothic art. Not a fake Gothic…not a Gothic from the time of Louis XV, or plaster or papier-mâché Gothic, not a Gothic in the style of Viollet-le-Duc… rather, with the aim to revive its spirit, steeped in the art of our times”…
The passion for crafts and trades.
His family lineage would make him feel connected to the importance of trades. The patterns of the lace industry that accompanied his childhood are not at all alien to his ceramic or metalwork designs.
Master ironworker Manuel Ballarin, the mosaicists Bru and Maragliano, stucco artist Joan Paradís, stained glass makers Rigalt and Amigó, sculptors Eusebi Arnau, Joan Llimona, Pere Blay and Alfons Jujol, ceramist Enric Monserdà, and cabinetmaker Gaspar Homar, among others, would decorate his buildings with excellent works of art.
Puig was a “total” architect. It is known to everyone that he was also a PhD in Physical and Mathematical Sciences and had studied Fine Arts.
At the School of Architecture of Barcelona he taught classes on hydraulics and on the resistance of materials.
Such deep and extensive knowledge of all the moments and elements of the architectural work—from the subsoil, through the structure and finishing with the smallest details of decoration and furniture—would allow him to complete his works in record time and with exquisite quality.
Puig was the fashionable architect of the Catalan bourgeoisie: Raventós, Pich i Pon, Amatller, Baró de Quadras, Casarramona, Bofarull, Terradas, Baladia, Llorach… were his clients, regardless of their political leanings.
For most of them, he also designed funeral pantheons, as well as for families including Macià, Valldaura, Cambó, Monserdà, and Dam, among others.
In 1904, on the occasion of the celebration of the International Architecture Congress in Madrid, Puig presented a book published in French: “L’oeuvre de Josep Puig i Cadafalch.” He demonstrated, thus, his interest to spread knowledge of Catalan architecture abroad and, just as in all other areas of culture, he succeeded in doing so throughout his life.
Xavier Barral has made an inventory of his architectural production. Counting decorative and architectural works, pantheons, monuments, crosses, restorations, projects… he came up with 220 between 1892 and 1947.
Puig left in Catalonia a dozen works declared national monuments (BCIN) and 26 protected as local monuments (BCIL), which have become, thus, a clear testimony to the quality of his work.
The inventory cites works in Biarritz, Valladolid, Madrid, Cambridge (USA) and the Foment del Treball Nacional [National Labour Promotion Institution] hall in the Spanish pavilion at the Brussels Exhibition in 1910.
I believe that the project of the Peace Palace in The Hague (1906), which brings to mind London’s Westminster or the parliament of Budapest, and the project for a votive church for Buenos Aires (1909), in collaboration with Josep Goday, and whose central tower suggests the needle of the Sainte Chapelle of Paris, are both worthy of special attention.
Puig, draughtsman of Barcelona.
From the City Council of Barcelona, Puig contributed greatly to the remodelling of what is now the Via Laietana (1913). He chose the central section interested, as he was, in finding a positive articulation of Roman and medieval Barcelona, with the visuals of the cathedral, etc.
An important municipal issue that he raised in Barcelona was the annexation of new towns: Sants, Gràcia, Horta…This was not foreseen in the Cerdà Plan and its rigidity made it difficult. Puig was the promoter of the international competition to establish the so-called Pla d’Enllaços [plan of interconnections] to connect these towns with the centre of the city. The plan presented by architect Lleó Jaussely was declared the winner in 1905.
Puig had an enormous capacity to synthesize, to manage issues of great complexity.
A particularly clear example, within reach of very few people, is his planning project for Montjuïc Mountain and, in particular, the 1929 exhibition. The axis of Montjuïc is the only monumental axis of Barcelona, comparable to other similar ones in Paris or Vienna, but with a much more rugged terrain in the case of Barcelona. The commission was withdrawn after the coup of Primo de Rivera, but Puig left the royal pavilions and four columns as well as the entire structure and image of the whole.
The commission for the remodelling of the Plaça de Catalunya (1924) was also withdrawn, which in 1924 was awarded to the architect Francesc de Paula Nebot.
Puig, restorer of monuments
The number of monuments restored by Puig is not very large, but they are of great importance. We are referring to the Visigothic churches of Terrassa and Sant Joan de les Abadesses, the Palau de la Generalitat [Palace of the Government of Catalonia], Sant Miquel de Cuixà Monastery, Sant Martí Sarroca, Solsona Cathedral, Santa Cecília de Montserrat, Sant Benet de Bages Monastery and La Seu d’Urgell Cathedral.
However, equally as important as his direct intervention on the monuments he restored is the fact that he created a style, influencing Adolf Florensa, César Martinell and Camil Pallàs.
Esteve Mach i Bosch