La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona adds a new tower after almost 140 years under construction

Jordi Fauli is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudí began work on the basilica in 1883, and he was expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this imposing architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Fauli will remain in charge when it is finally finished.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says 62-year-old Fauli, with a wry smile on her lips.

He was just 31 years old when he joined the team of architects as a local in 1990, the same age as Gaudí when the innovative Catalan architect began to build his largest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 meters (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 completed, the ornate cathedral that was designed by Gaudí will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 meters in the sky.

The second tallest tower, 138 meters high and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-ton star that crowns its highest point.

Several thousand people attended the inauguration, which coincided with the Day of the Immaculate Conception, a key Marian holiday of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis sent a video message to commemorate the occasion, greeting the “great architect” Gaudí.

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

Construction stopped by the Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia received 4.7 million visitors, making it the most visited monument in Barcelona.

But it was forced to shut down in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and its doors remained closed for nearly a year.

This year, just 764,000 visitors have been received, according to municipal figures.

And as entrance tickets are the main source of funding for ongoing construction works, the goal of completing the basilica in 2026 to commemorate the centenary of Gaudí’s death (he was hit by a tram) has been abandoned.

“We cannot give an estimate of when it will be finished because we do not know how the number of visitors will recover in the next few years,” says Fauli.

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

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work came to a halt and many of Gaudí’s blueprints and design models were destroyed.

For critics, this great loss means that they do not see what was later built as Gaudí’s work, despite research by his successors.

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

But Fauli insists that the project remains faithful to what Gaudí had planned, as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimonies of the late modernist architect.

Some local opposition

Appointed chief architect of the project in 2012, Fauli assumed the leadership of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

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

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

The construction of such a vast monument that it attracts large numbers of visitors is not welcomed by all, with some arguing that the crowds of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many are also opposed to plans to build a massive staircase leading to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds of people to relocate.

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

Fauli said he understands their concerns and wants to find “just solutions” through dialogue.

What if you could ask Gaudí a question? Fauli 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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