From the outside the most notable feature of the building – the rough, undulating, limestone façade – is also what has given Casa Mila its nickname, La Pedrera, which means “the quarry.” While it appears as one building, Casa Mila is actually two separate buildings linked by its facade and joined by two interior courtyards. The façade is self-supporting, allowing for large window openings which are highlighted by the extraordinary metalwork of the balcony railings.
The tour starts on the rooftop and works its way back down. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, and besides the delight of the rooftop itself, the 360-degree view was phenomenal and I found myself spending almost a full hour on the roof. Guardrails have been added for safety within and around the roof and only somewhat distract from the whimsical, sculptures dotting the building’s roof line. But the sculptural elements are not just about whimsy; they are functional as fireplace chimneys, ventilation shafts, and stair towers. Some of the elements are adorned with trencadis, or broken tile fragments, while others that are smaller or set back from the roof perimeter, are unadorned.
Like the undulating exterior façade the roof’s surface also ripples, and as you traverse across from one end to another you walk up and down various sets of stairs. This was something I hadn’t realized until I was up there, and along with the sculptures it creates a variety of places to inhabit and different vantage points to view both the distant vistas and the more intimate views of the adjacent courtyards.
I finally and reluctantly went back inside the building and down to the attic, which was equally surprising. Constructed with a series of 270 catenary arches of varying heights, it gives the roof its undulating surface. Now displaying a collection of Gaudi’s drawings and models, it’s a dramatic and lush space with its dark red brick arches and gallery lighting, but originally it housed the water tanks and washing lines. A pretty magical space for such a mundane task as laundry.
Walking through one of the apartments that has been maintained with the original room layout and with furniture from the period, the spaces are richly decorated but lacked the playfulness I expected from the exterior. The most notable feature was the abundance of natural light coming through the exterior facade, as well as the daylight from the courtyards that brightens the interior rooms of the apartment.
At just over 100 years old Casa Mila was not only innovative for its time, but is still a model for multi-family housing. With its flexible floor plans, abundant natural light, interior courtyards and habitable rooftop, these elements remain key to a successful project today. In our contemporary, bottom-line driven society, you’d be hard-pressed to find a developer today that would pay for a undulating façade or sculptural chimneys. Like all of Gaudi’s projects, it’s another reminder of what is possible.