All posts by Emily Steelman

Casa de los Botines


The Casa de los Botines is built in Leon, rather than in Barcelona like the majority of Gaudi’s works. The structure is not similar in appearance to the curved, flowing works of Gaudi in Barcelona, but seems rather to have an almost Gothic influence. For the basement, Gaudi did, however, use a technique identical to the one he used at the crypt of  La Sagrada Familia to improve the natural light and ventilation. The building is currently used as rental housing, with two apartments subdividing the main floor and four apartments on each of the three other floors.



Casa Vicens



The Casa Vicens is considered to be Antoni Gaudi’s first important work and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built for industrialist Manuel Vicens. The house is said to have oriental influences, which I can see in its straight lines and woodwork. The red and turquoise of the exterior certainly seem to combine Spanish and oriental art.  Surprisingly, this structure does not have Gaudi’s characteristic abstract forms and mosaics – rather, the mosaics follow patterns and are made of square tiles. Sadly, the Casa Vicens received its first critical acclaim in 1927, the year after Gaudi’s death.



La Sagrada Familia

sagrada familia


Antoni Gaudi took over as head architect of the Sagrada Familia cathedral after the death of the original architect, Francisco de Paula, in 1883. The cathedral is still under construction today, so he is also not the last architect of the cathedral. His style can best be seen in the chapel of San José, the crypt, and the door of El Nacimiento. The many columns supporting the weight of the cathedral were inspired by trees and give the inside of the church an earthy, natural feel. Interestingly, Gaudi worked on the cathedral until his death in 1926, and is himself buried in the crypt that he worked to design.



Casa Mila (La Pedrera)



La Pedrera means “the quarry” in Spanish, and this apartment building designed by Antoni Gaudi certainly gives the appearance of having been carved out of solid rock. The building is currently used as a cultural center. The building exterior appears free from straight lines in true Gaudi style, with balconies that remind me of a tangle of tree roots. A feature of the building that I found interesting is two swirling spires on the top of the building, that seem to swirl in a manner similar to the roof of the interior of the Casa Batllo.



Parc Guell


The Park Guell is described as a green oasis in the city of Barcelona. Antoni Gaudi is known for the curvature of his works, and this is true for the park – curved benches and porticos covered in colorful mosaic tile bear his distinct Catalonian style. On either side of the park gate sits two whimsical pavilions, that to me resemble gingerbread houses, giving the park what seems to be a carefree atmosphere. Notable parts of the park include Gaudi’s mosaic work on a giant salamander at the park’s main entrance, and on the curved walls of the main terrace.



Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

The Casa Batllo used to be a private home, but is now used as a venue to host private events. True to Gaudi’s style, there are hardly any straight lines, including curved archways and a ceiling that seems to swirl like water going down a drain. It was remodeled using the structure of an existing building, and owned by the Batllo family until the 1950s. Descriptions of the shingled roof describe it as “a dragon’s back” and I have to say that I agree, given that the roof does not follow a single angle and has multicolored shingles – it definitely has an organic, animal feel to it.




Edinburgh Castle

Boat Frame Edinburgh Castle

So far, all of my posts have been about French architecture, predominantly sites in and around Paris. This is because during my time abroad, rather than spend a few days in as many cities as I could, I chose instead to learn everything that I could about Paris and its environs, and it’s safe to say that I was enamored with what I found. Edinburgh is the exception to my local travel. I travelled to Edinburgh with my now-fiancé toward the end of my study abroad experience, when he flew to Paris to spend a week with me. He has family roots in the Scottish highlands, so we decided to take a weekend trip to Edinburgh. While we spend three amazing days seeing everything we possibly could in this amazing city, my favorite site by far was Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits atop the tallest hill in the city, and the citizens of Edinburgh are extremely proud of it as it has never been taken by force from a warring clan or army. I was amazed by the simple yet effective construction, the amazing condition that it has been kept in all these years, and especially by the many different buildings around the castle grounds – a prison, a beautiful chapel, and a cafeteria for soldiers with a ceiling constructed as the hull of a boat turned upside down (photo provided). While our intention was to spend an hour, maybe two, at the castle, we ended up staying for around five hours, until the sun set and we were no longer able to admire its beauty (which in December, in Scotland, was about 3:30 in the afternoon!). (Photos are my own)

Notre Dame de Strasbourg


During my semester in Paris I spent a few days in the town of Strasbourg, on the French side of the French-German border (although the town has belonged to Germany multiple times throughout its history). I was inspired to visit Strasbourg by my dad, who visited when he was stationed in Germany during his time in the Army. My dad told me of the cathedral and how he spent an entire day sitting inside, listening to the silence. I think it’s safe to say that this is the place that my dad felt closest to God. The architecture of this cathedral was so much different than what I had already seen at Notre Dame de Paris and Notre Dame d’Amiens. This is primarily due to two unique features of this cathedral. The first is that only one tower was completed, as opposed to two connected towers that are typical of gothic cathedrals. The second is that the local stone used in its construction had a red, marbled color that was completely unlike the cool white color of the others. To me, these features gave the cathedral an ominous appearance, and it’s probably for this reason that while I felt the awe I’m sure my dad felt when he visited 45 years ago, I didn’t feel the same sense of peace. (Photo is my own; due to the close proximity of the church to surrounding buildings, it is impossible to get a picture of the cathedral in its entirety.)

Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont


Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a man-made park on the northeast outskirts of Paris, and while it isn’t a building, it is so heavily landscaped and planned that I would definitely consider it to be part of the built world. The park sets itself apart from other Parisian parks such as the Jardin du Luxembourg, or Napoleon’s Jardin des Tuileries, in that it bears no trace of the typical French style of square trees, flat lawns, and fountains. While man-made, it was constructed to have a very natural feel. I actually had no idea that the park wasn’t a natural landscape until I researched it after my first visit. Built into the side of an enormous hill that is natural to that side of Paris, it features a three-story waterfall that ends in a cave that you can access at the bottom of an incredibly steep incline. From the highest point of the park, where a small Roman-style “temple” has been constructed, you can see the basilica Sacré-Coeur, which sits atop its own hill perhaps a few miles away. The park was a great place for me to escape to when the endless Haussmann-style buildings and bustle of the inner city got to be too much for someone used to endless prairie sky. (Photos are my own)

Buttes Chaumont 2 Buttes Chaumont 3

Les Catacombes de Paris

Les Catacombes

The Catacombes are an underground construction used as a mass burial ground for Parisians after cemeteries began to fill up and sanitation and hygiene became major issues in the 19th century. Older graves were disinterred and the bones were piled into geometrical formations in the old limestone quarry tunnels that were dug under the city (fun fact: Paris is almost entirely void of skyscrapers because of these tunnels – the foundation of the city can’t handle the weight, and there is no comprehensive map of where all the tunnels are). Interspersed throughout the mass graves are quotes from philosophers, authors, and poets, exploring themes of life and death. While in the Catacombes and for a while after, I felt conflicted about having been there at all, and about its nature as a public spectacle. On the one hand, it seems horribly wrong to view the disturbed bones of people whose names and lives have long since been forgotten, who thought they were being interred at their final place of rest. On the other hand, they would otherwise have been long since forgotten, and the desire to be remembered is, I believe, an integral part of human nature. Additionally, the quotes are all thought provoking, and the entire experience was humbling. While I wouldn’t exactly call the Catacombes beautiful, I definitely think it has provoked more thought and introspection than any other constructed work I have seen. (Photo from: