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by Dolors Pérez Vives

In December 1997, during the yearly meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Naples, two highlights of Barcelona's architecture - the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, both of them designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner - were unanimously added on to the list of historical buildings officially considered part of the Heritage of Mankind. Those two constructions, together with the Parc Güell and Gaudi's Palau Güell, included in the aforementioned list since 1994, make of Barcelona the epitome of a "Modernist" city, as it is the only city in the world which can boast such examples of Modernist architecture distinguished with the Unesco's "Heritage of Mankind" label.
With the passing of time, the Palau de la Música Catalana, now 90-year-old, has become one of the most emblematic buildings in Barcelona, widely recognized as such by the city's residents. However, this is not the case with the Hospital de Sant Pau, an ensemble of buildings that form a complex architectural whole truly unique in the world whose importance in artistic as well as cultural terms has never really been properly acknowledged because of its intrinsic function. That is why we now wish to look back and briefly reflect on the history of this Hospital which has introduced significant innovations not only in the field of medicine, but also in the sphere of artistic creation and architecture.
The history of the Hospital de Sant Pau is closely linked with the history of Barcelona, as its origins date back to the fifteenth century when, in 1401, the "Consell de Cent" Catalonian political assembly decided that it was necessary to unite all the hospitals scattered throughout the city into one nucleus and ordered the building of the Hospital or Casa de la Santa Creu in carrer Hospital, a construction which is considered today one of the most interesting examples of Gothic architecture and which now houses the Biblioteca de Catalunya (Library of Catalonia). From that time, when the construction of a larger, more modern Hospital constituted an important advance in terms of medical attention, scientific research and health services, until today, when the Hospital de Sant Pau has achieved international recognition in the field of contemporary medicine, almost six centuries have elapsed. (...) But it was in the late nineteenth ill and testament : the Tarragona-born banker, who was residing in Paris at the time of his death, had bequeathed half his patrimony - some four million pesetas - to be used to finance the construction of a civil hospital in Barcelona, on the sole condition that it be named after his patron saint, Sant Pau. The combination of both projects thus served as the starting point for the building of the Hospital de Sant Pau i la Santa Creu. In 1898, they bought a construction site located on the western side of the Guinardó district (...) and, on January 25th, 1902, the cornerstone was officially put in position. The architect appointed to direct the works was Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a prestigious professional who designed a very innovative project not only in terms of sanitary facilities, but also in terms of architectural and artistic features.
The project consisted in the construction of 49 independent pavilions, surrounded by gardens and connected by a network of underground galleries which housed the operational nucleus of the hospital.
"That organizational structure was truly one of the greatest innovations introduced by Domènech" - Lourdes Figueras, director of the Domènech i Muntaner Museum in Canet de Mar, explains - "On the one hand, it created an atmosphere of psychological well-being for patients lodged in small, airy pavilions with a lot of natural light and surrounded by greenery, and, on the other hand, it solved all the problems that the distances between those scattered pavilions might have caused by constructing all the centralizing elements in the underground galleries. Thus, from ouside, people do not see the organizational structure of the hospital, given that the network of services and communications is subterranean. It is really a unique example of engineering expertise if we take into consideration the size of the area covered by the hospital grounds, equal to that of nine city blocks in the Eixample district".
The pavilions have been built at a distance of 30 metres from each other and laid out around a 50-metre-wide diagonal pathway on the axis of which the pavilion that houses the operating theatres has been erected.
In order to update his knowledge of modern tendencies in the field of hospital building, Domènech looked to Europe and America for information and, even though nobody can assure that it bears direct relation to Domènech's project, the Bisperbers Hospital of Copenhaguen, which also features subterranean facilities, is the institution whose conception most closely resembles that of Sant Pau. The North American hospital of Peter Bent Brigham (1913), designed by Godman and Desprallede, and the Cincinatti General Hospital also show similar layouts, although with a surface connection system. "There is no other hospital like ours in the whole world" - Doctor Alvar Net, a former managing director of the Hospital de Sant Pau and one of the senior members of the staff, currently the head of its Intensive Care Unit, points out - "Other institutions may show structural similarities, but they are more strictly functional and they do not stand comparison with Sant Pau in terms of aesthetic achievements. Visitors coming from other places marvel at the shapes and layout of the buildings. Our hospital as a whole is truly like a modernist "town", unique in the world". (...)
Where construction techniques are concerned, the system used by the architect, based on arched arrangements of flat bricks, appeared from the start as an avant-garde, rather experimental building scheme which contributed to endow this collection of pavilions with matching harmonious shapes and great spatial richness. "Domènech i Muntaner, through his architectural projection methods, established patterns and elements that would be common denominators in Modernist architecture. When he designed the Hospital de Sant Pau, he applied all the concepts that characterize his works." - the historian adds - "One of the qualities which allow us to identify Domènech's designing style is the high degree of continuity between the different levels of design, from the more strictly structural components - such as staircases, pillars, skylights, etc ... - to other more ornamental parts - such as mosaics, grilles, tapestries, stuccowork, stained-glass windows, etc... -, so that all these element are integrated into a kaleidoscopic environment within which it proves difficult to distinguish what is actually structural from what is ornamental. Another distinctive trait shown in his projects is the graphic meticulousness with which the architect plans and conceives the work to be carried out. (...) Finally, Domènech always used symbolism as an important form of expression in his works. His "talking architecture" conveys feelings of ideological optimism, communicating his faith in progress and in a sense of national identity which the architect advocated his whole life long".
In 1913, the City Council of Barcelona awarded the Hospital de Sant Pau a prize that officially established it as the best architectural work carried out during the previous year. It was the third construction designed by Domènech i Muntaner - after the Palau de la Música and the Lleó i Morera house - that won such an award, so that the architect was further honoured by the City's Gold Medal.
The recovery of crafts and applied arts, precisely at that point in time when they were running the risk of suppression as a result of the industrialization process that was taking place in Europe, was one of the most characteristic features of the Modernist movement in general, and Domènech i Montaner also fostered that tendency which is exemplified in the way he designed the Hospital de Sant Pau. The building materials he used were bricks, stones, ceramics, mosaics, stained glass, wrought iron and, on rather rare ocasions, marble. Where ornamental elements are concerned, he used the history of the institution itself, the evolution of medical science and pharmacy, the milestones of scientific development and the major events in the Hospital's commemorative calendar as a basis for illustration. To realize those representational images of doctors, surgeons, historical figures, coats of arms of noble families as well as symbols and emblems of the city, the architect called in young artists - sculptors, ceramists, painters - and craftsmen. (...) Pablo Gargallo's works show a combination of different sculptural techniques such as embedded carving and bas-relief, among others; Eusebi Arnau is the author of the invocatory images placed in every hospital pavilion and of some of those which are found in the adminitration building. Other works, such as mosaics, ceramic coverings and paintings were produced by Labarta, Madurell and Maragliano.
The construction works continued uninterruptedly until 1911, when they had to be stopped for lack of funds, as the money bequeathed by Gil had been spent. Of the 48 buildings the project comprised, only eight had been completed, including the administration building and the operational centre. Confronted with such a difficult situation, the executors opted to hand all the rights to the bequest over to the board of directors that managed the Hospital de la Santa Creu, on condition that they carried on with the works and completed the construction of the new hospital which, from then on, would be called "Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau".
In 1913, when the management of the old Hospital de la Santa Creu took possession of the land and of the few pavilions that had already been fully erected, they acquired the whole of the construction site and, in 1914, work on the rest of the pavilions was finally resumed. They were able to carry out the project thanks to donations from members of the Catalonian upper middle class, cultured and sympathetic to innovations.
Domènech i Montaner died in 1923 and the completion of the works was entrusted to his son, Pere Domènech, who followed out his father's original guidelines for several years. Nevertheless, in 1928, Pere Domènech started directing his professional steps to other more eclectic forms, following a line akin to a new cultural movement called "Noucentisme" and opting for a novel approach that would lead him to develop a more personal style of architecture. The church, the convent, the convalescent home and the pharmacy were built within that period.
The ensemble of buildings was considered completed in 1930, and all the departments of the old Hospital de la Santa Creu were transferred to their new quarters, even though only half of Domènech i Montaner's original project had been carried out. That same year, the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau was officially inaugurated by king Alfonso XIII. (...)
Nowadays, the Hospital is one of Barcelona's most important civic institutions and its existence forms - and will always form - an intrinsic part of the city's history.
For the Hospital, the entry into a new millenium will mean taking a step further into the future. The plan to erect a modern building that will eventually replace the existing ensemble and house all the health services of the institution is soon to be put into operation. An official agreement on the construction of the new hospital was signed in 1991. (...) The architects Bonell, Gil i Rius and Barberà-Canosa will be in charge of the design and building works. (...)