Towards a New Old Architecture

Sir Barken Hyena writes:

Formerly in my post on Antonin Gaudi and Neo-Gothic, I mentioned that some innovative technologies were being used to speed the construction of the Sagrada Familia. Together these new techniques might make possible a revival of masonry artistry in architecture, or artistry in general. Here’s an overview of what they’ve been doing at the Sagrada, which is a virtual laboratory of innovative construction and design techniques:

CNC Stone Milling

The idea is that you send a 3D digital plan to the machine, which then carves a block of stone to that exact shape, but doing it in a fraction of the time. This completely replaces human stone carvers for most uses. Since many thousands of custom shaped stones needed, this is a gigantic breakthrough. When Gaudi began in the late 19th C, he expected the construction to take 300 years. Instead it might be done in half that time. In fact the spectacular interior of the church was completed in less than 15 years with the help of CNC milling.

3D Printing

Not used for parts of the church itself, but for concrete molds and templates. For example the fantastic sunflower hyperboloid ceiling vaults are made this way. First a supporting structure is built, then the plastic 3D forms are placed on top. Rebar is added, then the concrete poured. When dry the supports are removed and the mold peeled off. Some columns are also made this way. 3D printing is also used in modeling designs before final manufacture.

Plastic molds bloom into concrete rooftop sunflowers.

Plastic molds bloom into concrete rooftop sunflowers. Decoration is Venetian glass trencadis for a handmade touch

Pre-Fabricated Columns

The branching tree columns are one of the most impressive aspects of the building. But how were they built? Stone columns are normally a pile of cylinders, which is strong if vertical, but when angled simply slide apart. We can see that these columns are made of stacked parts, but how does it work?

Like legos. The CNC milled stones are in fact hollow rings that link together. Once fitted, the interior void is threaded with tendons of rebar and pumped full with concrete. So the exterior stone is both veneer and mold. When hardened it forms a column of great strength, but also resilient and flexible for earthquake safety. And it looks completely natural!

Carved by robot, snapped together like Legos

Carved by robot, snapped together like Legos

Custom machines and more

The builders have designed tripod cranes that drop prefabricated parts precisely and delicately in place by remote control, and machines for building spiral staircases and complex columns. There is also a concrete plant on site that churns out all kinds of high tech custom mixtures on demand, and factories for molding prefab elements.


We surely need a new generation of architects to come along and boldly take up these new tools and use them to ram a stake into the heart of the godawful modernist architecture the world has been subjected to by its venal technocratic masters for the last century.

Like I said, a man can dream.

About Sir Barken Hyena

IT professional and veteran of start ups. Life long musician and songwriter. Voracious reader of dead white guys. Lover of food and women.
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8 Responses to Towards a New Old Architecture

  1. fenster says:

    Give modernists credit for wanting their sheer forms to have current day integrity. The desire for integrity beats its opposite, most of the time. What’s fascinating about the current day current day though is how new technologies upend the whole equation. Ornament and beauty can win the integrity race as well as the one for the heart.


    • Maule Driver says:

      Has there ever been a point in time when revivalists have not been able to use new technologies to more productively reproduce yesterday’s stuff? The honest use and expression of current day technologies is bound to involve new forms and aesthetics. Combined with the many ingredients in the unholy mix of the built environment, it’s not surprising that the result are often unsettling. Talented artists should express their hearts and the times rather than trying to continually recreate Disney World. However, it’s good to see that Disney is hiring as well.


  2. Toddy Cat says:

    I’m sorry, but in my opinion, this is one ugly building. I prefer modernism to this. Surely “New Old Architecture” can do better than this monstrosity.


    • What you think of Gaudi is a matter of preference, my point is that these technologies can be used in a style-agnostic manner and make a vast range of designs possible again.


      • Toddy Cat says:

        That’s certainly true.


      • Maule Driver says:

        It is true.

        Personally, I like current technologies to be part the expression rather than just used. Of course it’s neither just one or the other. But sitting here at the dawn of the 21st, it seems to me that technology is the message.

        Resistance is to be expected.


  3. Pingback: Review: “Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation” | Uncouth Reflections

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