Almost a century has passed since the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, four years before his death, decided to give a chapel project of his own to Rancagua, in Chile, a city about 100 kilometers south of the capital, Santiago. He did so in 1922 through a letter to the Franciscan priest Angélico Aranda, of Chilean nationality. They had met in 1909 when the religious knocked on the door of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, and the Catalan himself opened the door and showed him his work in person. But the realization of Gaudí’s South American project has been difficult.
Although in time dozens of people and institutions have conspired to push what will be the first work of the modernist outside of Spain, the chapel in honor of Our Lady of the Angels is waiting for a new public tender to be opened for your edification. Currently, in Rancagua the first excavations carried out in 2016 by the construction company that would build the project are observed, which went bankrupt and left the work almost without starting.
Bad luck has helped, however, to perfect Gaudí’s plan, whose main driving force 26 years ago was the Chilean architect Christian Matzner, head of a team of professionals. In 1995 he was studying at the Gaudí Chair in Barcelona when Professor Juan Bassegoda – a Catalan architect who thoroughly studied the life of the author of Park Güell – told him about the initiative designed for Rancagua. It was when Matzner declassified the letters that Bassegoda himself had discovered in 1973.
“I remember it as a beautiful, exciting process,” confesses the Chilean about the work he did in the diocesan archives of the cathedral of Barcelona. It was the first connection work with a project to which he has dedicated a good part of his professional life and that has led him to work side by side with the director of the Sagrada Familia, Jordi Faulí, and with the regional teams of the Ministry of Works Chilean publics and different authorities and social leaders of the city of Rancagua itself. In that quarter of a century, Matzner has dedicated himself to making Gaudí’s dream come true, from giving it a three-dimensional shape to the last of the architectural solutions to adapt the chapel to the Chilean reality.
“After the great earthquake of 2010 we had to recalculate due to the new seismic standards,” says Matzner, who in October will teach a course at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Chile “to implement the construction techniques associated with the arts and crafts that defined Gaudí’s legacy ”, marked by“ the use of ruled geometry, inspired by nature ”.
The letters between the Franciscan Aranda and Gaudí are full of symbols. The Chilean’s letter is dated August 15, 1922 and, in handwriting, reminds him that they met in 1909 and declares himself “his admirer.” The religious, who at that point had a hierarchy within his congregation, reveals his project: “I am determined to make a small chapel or sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and, eager to do an original work, but very original, I I remembered you ”, the priest Aranda genuinely confesses, asking Gaudí for a project for Rancagua and offering him prayers in return.
The response of the Spanish to this Chilean priest, recognized for his great artistic and constructive gifts, is written on October 12, 1922. Typewritten – Gaudí was older at this point and had a secretary – he excused himself for not being able to carry out a project special, since he was focused on the Holy Family. But the Catalan realizes that the measurements are equal to those of a chapel that he studied precisely for this temple, the one dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. And he gave him the design: “The studio could be used long before its execution in Barcelona and would be a test of spiritual brotherhood between Spain and America.”
Martzer explains the importance of these lines: “In Rancagua there is a historical pain,” he says in reference to one of the bloody battles in Chile’s independence process, on October 1 and 2, 1814, which occurred precisely in this city . “Where there was pain with Spain, Gaudí seeks to generate a kind of reconciliation through his work”, adds the architect. For the Chilean, additionally, it is not a simple anecdote that Gaudí wanted the chapel to be built before its twin in Barcelona: “He was looking to set foot in America,” says Martzer, who reports that Gaudí had two other projects outside of Spain that never came to fruition (in Morocco and New York).
The one in Rancagua includes Gaudí’s chapel and, additionally, a cultural and spiritual center in the subsoil, which is not the responsibility of the Catalan. It will measure 10 by 10 meters in plan and 30 meters high and will cost approximately 9,000 million Chilean pesos (about 12 million dollars). It will be located in the large urban park Catalonia owned by the municipality, occupying 1.6 of its 14 hectares. According to Martzer, “the chapel will be rotated so that the façade looks at the historic center and its other side at Barcelona, in an axis of spiritual brotherhood between Rancagua and the city of Gaudi.” The ambitious project includes a niche in the crypt where the remains of the enthusiastic priest Aranda will be kept, currently reduced and buried in the Catholic Cemetery of the Chilean capital.
“The benefits for the region will be greater than the investment,” says Roberto Soto, director of Architecture of the Regional Ministerial Secretariat of Public Works of the Region of Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins, whose capital is Rancagua. It is a fundamental department in the development of this project and Soto has worked side by side with Martzer in adjusting the technical requirements to open a new tender.
In Rancagua they say that the population is excited about Gaudí’s landing in a city that is looking for new identity stamps. “It will be located in a place where the popular and well-to-do sectors meet, so it is symbolic,” says Gonzalo Díaz, president of the Gaudí de Triana Corporation, who for a quarter of a century has been pushing for the realization of the Catalan project in this mining city and peasant traditions. Currently, this private non-profit corporation carries out activities with the community to involve it in the project. In public space, for example, residents have carried out murals with the Catalan architect’s trencadís mosaic technique.
Meanwhile, the construction team of the Sagrada Familia led by the architect Faulí would like Gaudí’s wish that the chapel in Rancagua be completed first, according to Martzer. “In addition, currently in Barcelona they are concentrated in the main towers of the temple and the Chapel of the Assumption of the Virgin is behind for the last phase,” says the Chilean. In any case, if construction in Chile continues to be trapped, the option of building them in parallel would be studied.
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