art · Travel

The healing power of modernisme

If you like Sagrada Familia and the other architectural works of Gaudí, you have to be sure to check out the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau the next time you’re in Barcelona.

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Each building was a separate ward, housing patients classified according to illness

This hospital, finished in 1930 and fully operational until its new campus was opened in 2009, is a beautiful example of modernisme (what the Catalonians call art nouveau) architecture and design, albeit in an unexpected place. It’s the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the look of hospitals. Where modern hospitals are blank, white, and sterile, the Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau is ornate, colorful, and textured.

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Some art nouveau decorative details from what was the administrative building

Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the architect, believed that using colorful palettes and decorations that evoked nature would help the healing process and improve patient morale. Not to mention the patient pavilions and surgical theaters make great use of natural light with their high ceilings and big, open windows. Each building was connected by underground tunnels but also surrounded by open gardens, which patients who were well enough to move could enjoy freely.

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Another set of decorative details. No two rooms had the same ceramic design in the ceiling or floor tiles.

As someone who has made an extended stay in a hospital, I can vouch that I would have infinitely preferred a place like this to typical modern design and decor. Much like Gaudí’s work, Montaner believed in the idea that architecture and design should function in concert with nature, and this will make the people inside the building feel more at peace with themselves, with the natural world, or with God.

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Tile details, often with floral or plant motifs

The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and opened as a museum in 2014. Currently only 4 buildings are open to the public, and the rest are rented out to NGOs or are being refurbished. An admissions ticket will also allow you to roam freely in the gardens and see the building exteriors.

Tickets: 10€ regular, 7€ for 16-29 years old (16€/11.50€ for the guided tour)

Address: Carrer de Sant Quintí 89, Barcelona

Directions: From the northern corner of Sagrada Familia, you can walk straight up the Avinguda de Gaudí (a pedestrian street) for about four blocks. The metro station Sant Pau/ Dos de Maig is also a block away.

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