Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gaudy Gaudí

This is Antoni Gaudí:

He was a Spanish architect whose masterpiece was the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.  Construction began in 1882 and eventually stopped when the funding dried up.  In 1936 the only remaining blueprint was destroyed, making it difficult to faithfully fulfill Gaudí's vision, although construction apparently has re-started in recent years.  Here's the cathedral:

I learned some interesting stuff about Gaudí while cruising Wikipedia just now.  He died when he was run over by a tram at age 73, looking so raggedy that no cabs would pick him up, and finally people walking by helped him to a pauper's hospital.  

Today one of my students mentioned that she liked Western culture, so I asked her why.  Of course, I already knew the answer: She likes the fancy-free, romantic lives of the beautiful people she sees on American TV. 

I was wrong.  Vivian told me she likes Western culture because she likes the architecture, the art, the literature and the music.  She admires Gaudí.  She enjoys symphonies.  She made some very sophisticated comparisons between Chinese and Western classical music, using Beethoven's 5th symphony as an example (her thought: Chinese classical music sounds "flat" while symphonies sound "3D").  She is particularly interested in the era between the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.

Now, I am an educated person and so are you.  How many Chinese novels can we name?  Which Chinese architects do we admire?  Shoot, how many Western  architects can we name?  The only one I can think of right now is Gaudí, and the only "fact" I knew about him was that his name is the origin of our word "gaudy."  (Even this turns out not to be true.)

Here are my two points:

1) Our Western cultural heritage is rich.  Why do we let it languish in libraries and history books while we watch the next episode of America's Next Top Model? (Guilty here.)  Why does my non-Western 21-year-old student have a better grasp of Western fine arts than I do?

2) Most of my students are fascinated by the West because of Hollywood culture.  My student's answer was deeper and more thoughtful, and it made me glad to see that at least some Chinese are picking up on aspects of my culture that have nothing to do with Prison Break and Gossip Girl.  

I wish I could spend more Sunday afternoons sitting at the table with a bowl of strawberries talking about Beethoven's Fifth and gaudy Gaudí.


  1. Glad to hear your students are interested in architecture (almost as good as engineering)! So here are a few other achievements they could check out:
    Brooklyn Bridge...nearly impossible to construct in its day.
    Muenster cathedral in Ulm, Germany...took 500 years to build, and is still the tallest church spire in the world.
    Sutong bridge in China...longest bridge of its type in the world, and designed by my company.

    Enjoy your research!

  2. OK, here's what I learned:

    *Barnum sent a parade of elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge to prove it was stable.

    *The Ulm cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 11 years, replaced by Philadelphia's City Hall in 1901.

    *The Sutong bridge got a 2010 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award. Did you know that the wikipedia article talks about your company?

  3. Didn't know you were a student of Gossip Girl. Although, I was pretty sure about America's Next Top Model.

  4. Ha. I confess to having enjoyed some episodes of Top Model, but I've never seen Gossip Girl. You'll have to tell me all about it sometime.