The construction of Spain’s Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, better known as the Sagrada Família, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, began in 1882 and is yet to be finished.
Despite still being incomplete, the Roman Catholic church was listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
For many years, people have thought that the most iconic building in Barcelona was never going to be complete. “This is taking longer than the Sagrada Família’s construction!” Barcelonians would say of something that takes more time than usual to be completed.
The long construction process is now expected to end around 2026, which coincides with the centennial of Gaudí’s death in 1926. But the long-awaited end refers only to the outside of the gothic-style building that includes three highly detailed facades and eighteen towers that represent the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
Once all of these are completed, the Sagrada Família will become the tallest church in the world with a height of 170 meters, surpassing the “Ulm Muenster” in Ulm, Germany, which is 161.5 meters high. But some of the internal decorations would continue to be under construction.
The construction of the Sagrada Família has been in progress for more than 130 years. Centuries ago, buildings like this would take decades to be constructed, but one would think that nowadays, with the advances in technology and engineering, the construction of the Sagrada Família would be much faster.
But the slow construction is due to the complexity of the design which includes columns that twist and reach out, imitating shapes of trees, with many stained glass windows that generate a unique environment, creating the impression of being in an enormous forest.
Gaudí’s unexpected death in 1926 when he was hit by a tram in Barcelona also slowed the process down. An important reason is the fact that a big part of the drawings, blueprints and models that Gaudí designed were burnt during the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, when anarchists entered Gaudí’s studio.
It took many years to reconstruct and figure out everything that was in the plans. However, one of the most important reasons behind the slow construction is that it has been built only with certain types of funding, like the income it gets from the tickets and merchandising as well as from private donations.
In 2014, 3.2 million people visited the Sagrada Família, adding around 25 million euros to the annual budget of the construction.
Although the Sagrada Família is a symbol of Barcelona, it has always been a center of controversy and polemical issues; from its architect who was known for his creativity, innovation and controversial personality, to the dilemmas of knowing how to follow the construction of the church and knowing who should be in charge of it, to how to pay for its construction, and to the current impact of the building as a massive touristic attraction in a very traditional and residential neighborhood in the middle of the city.
The final part of the construction of the Sagrada Família is also creating many disputes. The original designs included a small avenue and green area connecting one of the facades of the building to one of the main streets of the city, located two streets down. If this were to be done, two blocks of residences and small businesses would have to be expropriated. This would have a tremendously high cost in compensations and reallocations for around 3,000 people who would be losing their homes. Now that the time of the possible construction is coming closer, there has been a lot of talking about this among the people in the neighborhood and in the news.
“I have been hearing about the possible expropriation of the area since I was 5 years old, and now that I am 59, I will be retiring soon, so it is not a problem for me," an owner of a small grocery store in the area said. "However, I know that many neighbors are having a hard time realizing that the time of the last phase of the construction is almost here.”
The local government has feared this moment for many years because it would be responsible for allocating the compensations. The government and the board of the Sagrada Família still have to figure out who is going to cover the costs, which has been estimated to be around $59 million, and it looks like none of them are willing to spend a single euro.
When the construction of the Sagrada Familia started, there was nothing around it, and constructing in the grounds around it was not supposed to be approved. However, people still decided to construct, and the government gave permits, knowing that one day, the original plans could be followed and they would have to leave the area.
Maria Lluisa Bartolomé, a 77-year-old woman who has been living all her life in a neighborhood close to the Sagrada Família, told Global Young Voices: “When these people bought their apartments, they were aware of the situation and the risk of the construction of the Sagrada Família affecting the area. Now, the government might have to pay for it and that is not fair. We do not have to pay for this because the owners of these residencies made bad investments. They are responsible for it.”
While people are excited to see Barcelona’s iconic building completed, we know that first a lot of decisions have to be made in these last years of its construction. Although many will have negative effects on the community, this project, which represents religious and touristic values, will only make Barcelona a better city when it sees the light of day, just like Gaudí predicted when he first worked on its design.