The Japanese Sculptor Who Dedicated His Life to Finishing Gaudí’s Magnum Opus, the Sagrada Família

Ven­go de Japón.” With those words Japan­ese sculp­tor Etsuro Sotoo intro­duces him­self to us in “Stone Cut,” the short film from NOWNESS above. Since com­ing to Barcelona in 1978, Sotoo has not just mas­tered the Span­ish lan­guage but con­vert­ed to Roman Catholi­cism and ded­i­cat­ed much of his life to labor­ing on the com­ple­tion of the most famous build­ing in Spain: Antoni Gaudí’s mag­num opus, the Basíli­ca de la Sagra­da Família. Not that it was quite so revered when Sotoo first encoun­tered it: “Back in the day, no one real­ly cared about Sagra­da Famil­ia,” he says. “There were stones and rub­ble, but it was most­ly an aban­doned ruin. This sit­u­a­tion last­ed many decades.” 

Even the young Sotoo him­self had no inter­est in the archi­tect of Sagra­da Famil­ia, but “back then it was manda­to­ry to know Gaudí’s name. Slow­ly, my inter­est in Gaudí start­ed to grow in me. And today it keeps grow­ing.” As it should: for more than 40 years now, Sotoo has worked to com­plete what Gaudí left unfin­ished at the time of his death in 1926, a decade before the out­break of the Span­ish Civ­il War. That bit­ter con­flict not only put a stop to the con­struc­tion of Sagra­da Famil­ia for near­ly two decades, it also dam­aged what had already been built: the sculp­tures of its Por­ta del Rosari, for exam­ple, which it has fall­en to Sotoo to restore.

Sculp­tures con­sti­tute much of the elab­o­rate dec­o­ra­tion of Sagra­da Famil­i­a’s exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or, both of which present the view­er with nary a straight line nor a flat sur­face. Even in the incom­plete build­ing, the effect is at once organ­ic and oth­er­world­ly. “Gaudí is way beyond where we are today,” says Sotoo, and his film­mak­ing coun­try­man Hiroshi Teshi­ga­hara must have shared that sen­ti­ment, hav­ing paid trib­ute to the archi­tect with a wor­ship­ful 1984 doc­u­men­tary. The project of real­iz­ing the archi­tec­t’s unprece­dent­ed aes­thet­ic vision — the result of a con­ver­sa­tion “with God about some­thing very big and pro­found” — con­tin­ues to this day, 138 years after the com­mence­ment of its con­struc­tion, which moved slow­ly even dur­ing Gaudí’s life­time. “My client,” his­to­ry remem­bers him hav­ing said, “is not in a hur­ry.”

The cur­rent push to com­plete Sagra­da Famil­ia has a more press­ing dead­line: the year 2026, the cen­te­nary of Gaudí’s death, at which time less than a quar­ter of the project was com­plete. (You can see a 3D ren­der­ing of the remain­der of the process in this video from the Sagra­da Famil­ia Foun­da­tion, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.) But that time frame only cov­ers com­ple­tion of the struc­ture, includ­ing the eigh­teen spires Gaudí envi­sioned as rep­re­sent­ing the Twelve Apos­tles, the Vir­gin Mary, the four Evan­ge­lists, and Jesus Christ. The dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments should be fin­ished by the ear­ly 2030s, grant­i­ng more breath­ing room to arti­sans like Sotoo — who, hav­ing spent four-decades being reshaped by Gaudí him­self, knows that archi­tec­tur­al genius can’t be rushed.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Antoni Gaudí’s Unfin­ished Mas­ter­piece, the Sagra­da Família, Get Final­ly Com­plet­ed in 60 Sec­onds

The Isamu Noguchi Muse­um Puts Online an Archive of 60,000 Pho­tographs, Man­u­scripts & Dig­i­tized Draw­ings by the Japan­ese Sculp­tor

A Vir­tu­al Time-Lapse Recre­ation of the Build­ing of Notre Dame (1160)

An Intro­duc­tion to Hagia Sophia: After 85 Years as a Muse­um, It’s Set to Become a Mosque Again

The His­to­ry of West­ern Archi­tec­ture: A Free Course Mov­ing from Ancient Greece to Roco­co

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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