60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Barcelona & God’s Architect Antoni Gaudi

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60 Minutes: God’s Architect

Pope Benedict XVI bestowed only one church with the office’s highest honor, making it a basilica. That church was the Sagrada Familia, a spectacular vision by “God’s architect” Antoni Gaudi, in Barcelona, Spain.

The church has been under construction for over 130 years, and it is the world’s longest ongoing work of architecture, as Lara Logan reported. Benedict’s visit in 2011 was the church’s first mass.

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60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Construction

60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Barcelona & God's Architect Antoni Gaudi

Lara Logan of 60 Minutes went inside the Sagrada Familia, an elaborately designed church conceived by Antoni Gaudi in the 1800s and still under construction. (Alessandro Colle / Shutterstock.com)

Sagrada Familia was consecrated as a basilica. The church was envisioned in 1883, and is a glorious spectacle. The ceremony featured an 800-voice choir and a gathering of thousands for a momentous occasion.

Indoor construction is mostly complete, but the building’s facade still need a lot of work. The massive and enormous building towers over the city below, in a design that Gaudi intended to make up for the sins of man.

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60 Minutes: Antoni Gaudi Biography

The extraordinary undertaking is profiled in Gaudi’s biography, written by Gijs Van Hensbergen. For a decade, the biographer immersed himself in the architect’s life and work. The facade of the building is designed to tell the entire story of the Catholic church, in minute detail.

Gaudi said the building was designed as a teaching tool for priests and people of faith. As for the ceiling, it is a marvel of engineering, mimicking a forest to create a sense of closeness to God.

60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Engineering

The engineering is “exceptional,” according to Van Hensbergen, who said the stone in the building becoming increasingly stronger as visitors get nearer to the basilica’s altar.

The building takes on the aesthetics of a sculpture, and Van Hensbergen said that Gaudi was at least a century before his time.

60 Minutes: Jordi Bonet Family

Since Gaudi knew he would not be alive to see the building completed, he rendered his design using plaster models to show what he had envisioned.

Jordi Bonet is a member of the family who has carried on the legacy. Jordi has watched since the 1930s as the building has continued to evolve. His father was a lead architect for four decades on the project, and Jordi followed in his footsteps. Now Jordi’s own daughter is part of the project.

60 Minutes: Barcelona Basilica

Bonet said he sees his family’s work as a contribution to the world, and many workers on the project are devoted to Gaudi and his vision. One sculptor plans to spend the rest of his life working toward the completion of the vision.

The sculptor actually converted to Catholicism from Buddhism, taking on the faith of the man whose vision is being executed in Barcelona. Gaudi’s obsession with the church’s construction overtook every moment of his life.

60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Spanish Civil War

Gaudi died in 1926 after being hit by a tram. Mourners were bereft, but the plaster models kept the construction going until the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, when the models were destroyed.

Some fragments were rescued and remain safeguarded inside the cathedral, a link to the past and future of Sagrada Familia.

60 Minutes: Sagrada Familia Aerodynamics

Mark Burry, a native New Zealander and architecture student, arrived in 1977, just in time to help figure out how to execute a new chapter of Gaudi’s vision. Burry was able to “reverse-engineer the models” and figure out how Gaudi’s puzzle pieces would fit together and be executed.

Part of that was accomplished using developments of software and complex aerodynamic design typically used for development of vehicles such as airplanes and nautical design.

60 Minutes: Mark Burry Sagrada Familia

Burry is now among the project’s lead architects, 30 years after becoming part of the project. Gigantic cranes tower atop the cathedral as construction continues, and what is truly amazing is how accurate Gaudi’s designs from the 1800s are, even today when translated using modern technology and equipment.

When completed, the church will be the tallest anywhere in the world, but there is over a decade of work left to be done. Incredibly, all the construction and work is funded by donations. However you feel about religion and no matter your faith, this is a beautiful building and a marvel from the past as well as for the future.

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