Casa Batlló is one of Barcelona’s top architectural landmarks. Like other creations by the city’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, it’s uniquely singular in its design. This fabled ‘House of Bones’ is as remarkable on the inside as it is from the outside – with its scaly dragon-inspired roof tiles and kaleidoscopic floral mosaics creating a magical and timeless atmosphere for anyone lucky enough to visit it.
We sat down with Gary Gautier, the CEO of Casa Batlló, who shared some interesting facts and stories about Casa Batlló’s architecture and history, as well as the technological triumphs that make this beautiful building one of the most highly-rated tourist attractions in the world.
Meet your insider
Please give us a quick introduction to your role. What does being the CEO of Casa Batlló mean to you?
I’ve been the CEO of Casa Batlló for five years now. I started working here 10 years ago, and after implementing some innovative projects they offered me the chance to lead the company. I introduced some major changes within the organisation, the most important one being how we organise ourselves.
I believe that each and every one of us is a subconscious hunter of happiness. Everything we do is to increase our happiness level, every decision we make, every act we embark on. And in that sense, a lot of what we create exists to make us happier.
My purpose is to make it easier for each member of the Casa Batlló team to identify their genius-type and help them to develop and grow. People who succeed in life are those who are happy with what they do. They are people truly connected to their essence and aligned with their environment. They emanate an inner light and an energy that makes unimaginable things possible.
The story behind Casa Batlló’s unique architecture
What is the history behind Casa Batlló’s architecture?
Gaudí was asked over a century ago – in 1904 – to build the most beautiful house in the city for the Batlló family, who bought a property on the street known as Passeig de Gràcia. The owner, Mr. Josep Batlló, was a businessman who was very powerful in Catalonia at the time. Gaudí himself was the most renowned architect of the time, so the Batlló family asked him to tear down the existing building to create a new, spectacular home.
The Batlló family was expecting something truly unique and they asked Gaudí twice to demolish the former building to do something that had never been done before, but in the end Gaudí convinced them it wasn’t necessary.
Was the family happy with the refurbishments?
As far as we know the Batlló family was very satisfied with the result. Actually, the Batlló family was very different from some other Gaudí clients; they allowed him to have complete creative freedom – something that didn’t happen in his other works! La Pedrera, for instance, was started by Gaudí right after finishing Casa Batlló, and this time he had a lot of problems with his clients – the Milà-Segimon family. They actually ended up in court because they weren’t happy at all with the result!
After this episode, Gaudí never worked again for the bourgeoisie, and then he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the Sagrada Familia church. He was convinced that his new client would not yell at him from the sky, and he was not in a hurry.
Casa Batlló has universally positive reviews on Tiqets. The most commonly used word is ‘’magical’’. What is it about the architecture of Casa Batlló that makes it so magical?
I think magic is a nice word to describe what is indescribable. It’s easy to talk about something expected; Casa Batlló has this energy that gets into everybody’s soul when they enter. It’s peace, beauty… things keep on happening in front of you without you expecting them. Like some lighting details that can just surprise you at a certain moment of the day.
Have you had the feeling of going to the mountains and getting these nice and deep breaths? This is the kind of mood you get at Casa Batlló in very different places all over the building. We don’t prepare this magic – we just take care of it and preserve it.
If you had to create an architectural highlight reel for Casa Batlló, what would you feature?
That’s a hard question! Every room is special for a reason. One that I personally like the most is the one that’s just behind the Princess’s Balcony on the fifth floor where you have all these beautiful white arches – like breathing lungs, or a chest that’s expanding and contracting its ribs. This room is very special to me. It’s the most peaceful, relaxing and zen one.
There are some other ones, too – but honestly, I don’t think there’s one location that is much more popular than the others for our visitors.
What do you consider the hidden gems at Casa Batlló? Is there anything that you wish people would stop and appreciate more?
Our hidden gem is our staff team. Casa Batlló is the first cultural organisation that has a 100% neurodivergent staff (autism, dyspraxia, and other kinds of neurodivergence) in charge of visitor service. Our collaboration with a company called Specialisterne has made it possible to demystify and give visibility to neurodiversity, and to be a source of employment for people with difficulties in accessing the labour market.
I believe that having neurodivergent people on our team can only bring us more specialized talent and enthusiasm in our day-to-day life. The most important thing, beyond qualitatively improving the visitor experience, is improving the quality of life of some people who, until now, have been excluded from the workplace. We have discovered talents that we could never have imagined.
But Casa Batlló does not just help neurodivergent people find work at the museum, we take care of their permanent training and provide them with all the knowledge and context to deeply understand the diversity, beauty, and history of this World Heritage site. There are multiple benefits of this training on heritage and cultural topics; allowing true engagement with the building is one of the most important, together with the fact that the training helps our staff to appreciate and understand the relevance of their work even more.
Casa Batlló’s engagement with neurodivergent people was key to winning the Barcelona Sustainable Tourism Award in 2021, because this social project represents that the Cooperative Social Responsibility is now embedded in the core of the museum and is not just an isolated action.
Can you give us an example of one of the many hidden details in Casa Batlló’s architecture?
I have tons of examples! Here’s one that 99% of people won’t have seen: When you go through the main staircase, there are some little holes on the blue patio hidden in the blue-tone tiles beneath the windows. Those little holes are made for air ventilation of the wooden and metal structure of the former building reused by Gaudí. It’s very rare to see! They are almost invisible to everyone but are very important. Without them, the old wooden structure would be rotted away by humidity.
For Gaudí, lighting and ventilation are the two vital parts of a building. He really took these two things into consideration. When you go through Casa Batlló, you realise that the air quality and how it flows – where it comes and where it’s been before – is very important. He manages to bring natural light seven floors down from the rooftop using simple but smart solutions such as the colour of the tiles and the size of the windows!
If you could go back in time and ask Gaudí a single question, what would it be?
I think I would like to know more about him. We don’t know that much about who he was – Gaudí was not a public person. All the information we have is from the few people that met him and have written down his thoughts and stories. There are almost no videos and only a few pictures. The diary he wrote when he was a student is also not very precise.
When he was given the architect title, one of his professors said ‘’I don’t know if we are giving this title to a fool or to a genius – only time will tell.’’ What I would enjoy is to chat with him and see what he’s like – I have no idea how willing he would be, though!
Do you have a favourite story (or two) from your time at Casa Batlló?
We’ve been working for the last seven years on reimagining what the most exciting museum visit could look like. We’ve been travelling around the world looking for what’s best-in-class in museum attractions, in exhibits, and in anything related to what we do.
As well as travelling and going to seminars, forums, and so on, we’ve been working closely with 15 different enterprises keen on technology and innovation. I placed a lot of effort and thought into it, because I was the one pushing for this crazy seven-year project! We had work that was delayed because we kept finding crazy stuff in the middle of restorations, so we had to rethink our plans. Then Covid arrived… It wasn’t an easy project, but it led to us launching the new visit on May 14th, 2021.
That day I realized that all our dreams and crazy brainstorming were, in the end, a reality – and everybody would be able to enjoy and celebrate the results.
Tips for planning your Casa Batlló visit
How does Casa Batlló use technology and innovation in this new visitor experience?
We use technology to help visitors better understand what they see at Casa Batlló – and to make it even more attractive.
In the rooms where the richness of Gaudí’s legacy is more present, we’ve been very careful not to disturb visitors’ attention. In some places, we’ve come up with ways to enhance certain features using illusionism techniques.
Here’s an example: when you walk by the concierge, there’s an old envelope that dates from the last century that says ‘’For the Batlló family’’, with an old stamp from 100 years ago. The way ‘Batlló family’ is written is through a projection, but the text is in black, to resemble ink. As some of you might know, we cannot project black light – it’s the only colour you can’t project. It took us a while to reinvent the scene, but we made it! When you stop by the envelope, this black-inked text will disappear as you pass by. However the Batlló family’s memories will remain with us forever.
We’ve flooded the house with magic and illusions to surprise our visitors during every step they take. We all know that magic doesn’t exist, but do we really care?
Another amazing thing we’ve come up with is to adapt the audio you’re hearing in real time, to match your progress inside the building. This allows the more curious visitors to know more, and for those who are in a quicker visiting mood, it skips to the most relevant highlights. Obviously, this is all done without the visitor knowing it. We call that automagically!
Based on the reviews on Tiqets, people really loved the audio guide. Can you tell us more about these guides and what makes them so popular?
The audio guide has always been very special for us! We were one of the very few museums offering it for free from the very beginning, maybe 20 years ago. It was always included in the price. We wanted visitors to understand what they were looking at.
Most places offer audio guides as an add-on that visitors need to pay extra for, and when you do this, around 17-23% of people buy it. That means 75% of people or 80% of people don’t fully understand what they’re seeing.
There are lots of audio guides – I‘ve tried many – where the tone of the voice is boring, or it makes you sleepy. I’ve listened to many of them and thought…. ‘’ugh, how can you do that?!’’ That’s why we designed the audio guide experience we have currently.
As part of our newly designed visit, we decided to hire professionals to do something spectacular. We ended up with four versions of it – and we didn’t like any of them. So, by the end of the fifth year of the project, we decided to write it ourselves. Three members of our team started writing the new audio guide, and very proudly, I can tell you that the Spanish voice on the guide is actually also from one of our team members!
The audio guide is a technological device, but the storytelling we have created is fundamental to making the magic happen. This storytelling has been recently awarded for its outstanding combination of literature, music, and architecture; something that’s never happened before.
What insider tips do you have for first-time visitors?
To be open to the unexpected, and flow with confidence and trust through the magic of the house. We’ve been working for seven years to make sure that you won’t regret stepping inside Casa Batlló. We’ve designed the most amazing exhibits ever imagined inside a World Heritage site. Every single detail is part of our storyboard. Offer yourself this moment, and this one hour in time will remain with you forever. It’s the most beautiful and immersive meditation in Barcelona.
There are many different ways to enjoy a Casa Batlló visit. If you had to plan the perfect visit to Casa Batlló, how would you do it?
We’ve got a product for that! We normally open 30 minutes before the normal entrance time, which is 9:00 – and from 8:30 to 9:00 am we accept a very small number of explorers who can be the first ones to enter the museum. For me, that’s the best experience you can get.
The city is not so noisy in the morning, so the mood is a lot more relaxed and quieter. That’s important for an enjoyable experience. The light is also beautiful at that time of the day – it hits the front façade and leads to very beautiful, bright colours, especially on the Noble Floor with the stained glasses “painting” the floor with colourful lights. And you’re far from the crowds on the street. There are only a few dozen other people in the building with you, and you know no one else will join before you exit the building. Normally by the time you leave, the city has woken up – and there will be crowds and people outside. That quiet hour in the morning is my favourite time to visit.
Lastly: if people want to plan a Gaudí-themed trip around Barcelona, what other landmarks would you recommend for people to see if they loved Casa Batlló’s architecture?
Casa Batlló is the only one that summarises and concentrates all of Gaudí’s genius in a single monument. It is also the only building where you can see how Gaudí used all the materials that can be found all through his other works, such as ceramics, glass, iron, wood and stone. Casa Batlló is a milestone in the life of Gaudí and a pinnacle of his creative path in architecture.
Other buildings can help you to understand Casa Batlló better, however, like Casa Vicens, Torre Bellesguard and Palau Güell, which all preceded Casa Batlló. Churches like the Sagrada Familia and the Crypt of Colonia Güell can help people to understand Gaudí’s religiosity, while Park Güell helps you understand the landscape vision of a dreamed “Garden City” that ended in a real estate business failure.
With that said, all of Gaudí monuments are unique, but there is no other that takes as much care as we do to make our visitors’ experience is truly one of a kind.