The restoration of Palau Güell
As Palau Güell is owned by Barcelona Provincial Council, the building has undergone restoration work several times in order to conserve and preserve it for future generations.
The Method of Restoration
The building has been restored in accordance with the approach defined as from 1986 by the Monument Catalogue and Conservation Service of Barcelona Provincial Council, with a prior analysis of the monument's history, construction, artistic and sociological factors then carrying out the consequent work. This methodology has been followed for all the work carried out until the restoration was completed in 2011.
The Main Objective
The main objective was to recover the original formal and spatial values of the palace, through the restoration of the preserved items or the faithful reconstruction of any that were lost. When new materials had to be incorporated the principle of harmonic diachrony (harmonious dialogue between the original and new materials with no confusion as to chronology) was applied.
The Restoration Since 1990
At the beginning of the 90's decade was when the twenty chimneys on the roof were restored. For those that had lost their original covering, they were recovered thanks to the work of Catalan artists. After 1993 work began on the inside of the building.
The building studies carried out until 2004 provided abundant information on the behaviour of the building, but they showed that knowledge was as yet insufficient, as Gaudí’s building systems hid secrets that could not be revealed with the building in use. Risks to people were also detected due to the condition of a number of elements. A new analysis was planned that would enable the state of conservation of the materials and construction systems to be assessed, prior to a complete restoration of the palace, which closed to the public in October 2004. The new studies were extremely complex and lasted until the end of 2005. Subsequently, a project for the use of the monument was approved, which established public visits as a priority function, and successive building projects were drawn up.
The Restoration Since 2005
The sides and roof of the building were restored between 2005 and 2007. The most complicated task in restoring the roof was replacing the rusty hidden frame of the lantern, originally made of iron, with a new titanium one. In 2006 work began to restore the main and south facades, and structural reinforcement began in 2007. In regard to the coffering, which ceased to have a load-bearing function in the nineteen sixties, the hidden part was reinforced and the colour and texture of the visible elements, in wood and iron, were recovered. Later, the facings, flooring and other structural and decorative elements were restored (stone, tile, wood, iron, brass, glass, leather, fabrics, etc.). The original colours were restored on the walls.
In adapting the building to new functional demands and safety requirements, the installations and services were updated in such a way as not to alter the monument’s formal and spatial values. The interior lighting was faithful to the idea that the building was to become a museum, and it was not so much a question of showing the visitor how the Güell family lived, as of enabling greater understanding and enjoyment of Gaudí’s architecture.
Of all the work undertaken in the final phase the most complex and extensive was restoring the wooden features. It took a team of eight or nine cabinetmakers working in the Palau for more than two years to repair, restore or rebuild all of the structural and decorative elements (doors, windows, lattices, screens, dado rails, and so on), and the corresponding mechanisms. Where reconstruction was necessary, this was done using the same type of wood (pine, eucalyptus, oak, beech, walnut, mahogany, rosewood, ebony, etc.), cuts, joins and techniques as the original.
Another important aspect was the restoration of the organ. Eusebi Güell commissioned it from the Basque organ builder Aquilino Amezua, and Gaudí planned its place and incorporation in the building in order to achieve the perfect balance between music and architecture. The console, conserved today, was installed on the main floor and the pipes distributed around the central dome, designed as a huge musical sounding board. In the nineteen thirties the organ began to deteriorate irreversibly. Eighty years later, any thought of restoring the original was abandoned, and in its place a new one was installed that made use of the elements that were conserved, such as the wooden pipes down the side facades. The new organ was built by the organ builder Albert Blancafort in his workshop at Collbató. The new organ contains all the resources of the original, with added registers and tones, thanks to which most of the organ repertoire can be played. The organist is now in direct contact with the instrument. So that visitors can enjoy organ music, the organ has a replay system, which plays selected pieces every half hour.
It is as true to say that Gaudí was able to build the palace the way he did thanks to the excellent workmen he commanded, as it is that the comprehensive restoration completed in 2011 was made possible by specialists of all trades, with similar skills and enthusiasm to the original team. The work of the final phase was completed on 15 May 2011, and the palace opened to the public on 26 May.