What would a trip to Barcelona be without a visit to at least one Gaudí masterpiece? From the spires of the unfinished Sagrada Familia to the multi-coloured mosaic tiles of Park Güell, the late Catalan architect more than left his mark on the streets of Barcelona. One of his most interesting works is undoubtedly Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (yes, this building has two names and you’ll find out why soon). Inspired by sandy beaches and marine life, this Gaudí masterpiece has an imposing yet gentle facade and it’s a treasure trove of architectural hidden gems. Just ask Casa Milà Senior Tour Guide Laia Casamitjana – or read our interview with her, instead.
Thanks for chatting to us, Laia! So what do you do at Casa Milà?
The main thing I do is to provide guided tours in different languages and help people get to know this Gaudí masterpiece. Another part of my job is to facilitate creative workshops for schools and families. We offer a large variety of these, but the top one is our trencadís mosaic workshop, which delves into a technique Gaudí used quite a lot in his work.
We work with all kinds of visitors, from small children to adults, always adapting the workshop to the needs of the people taking it. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of my work – it makes it different and dynamic, so I never get bored!
I’m also always thinking about different and innovative ways of explaining the history of this century-old house.
Sounds exciting! How long have you worked at Casa Milà?
Almost eight years, and I still don’t get tired of it. Every day I admire even more the undulating shape of the building, and discover new things about the rich history of it.
What do you love most about your role as a tour guide?
I love sharing my experience, feelings, and knowledge about La Pedrera with people that come from all over the world. Believe me, no one remains indifferent to this very special place. I love feeling like I am a part of this house and doing different kinds of work during the day that make sure it continues to function smoothly. Each day is different from the previous one: new people, new activities, new questions, different weather, different mood…
Wait, did you just say La Pedrera? I thought it was called Casa Milà?
The original name is Casa Milà, which in Catalan means “the house of the Milà family”. The other name that I just said is the nickname that people gave to the house: La Pedrera. This literally means “the quarry” in Catalan. Yes, you read correctly: la pedrera means the quarry!
At the beginning of the 20th century, people were not ready for such modern architecture. Every single person in Barcelona was surprised and shocked when they saw this building made of stone in the middle of the Passeig de Gràcia street, one of the most elegant avenues in Barcelona at the time – and still today. Some newspapers even published mocking caricatures of the building, and around this time the nickname “La Pedrera” was coined. Time went by and people came to love and accept the building, but it never shook off the nickname “La Pedrera”!
Can you tell us a bit more about the Milà family behind the building’s original name?
Mr and Mrs Milà commissioned Gaudí to build La Pedrera in 1906 and the house was finished in 1912. It took Gaudí six years to complete what would be his last civil work. But it wasn’t just a family house, it was also a kind of business that the Milà family ran: the house was built as a block of apartments. The Milà family lived in the biggest of the apartments and rented the rest to other wealthy families in Barcelona.
Do people still live in the apartments in Casa Milà?
Yes! La Pedrera actually serves these five different purposes. It’s a tourism attraction as it’s open to the public and can be visited during the day and at night; it’s a cultural centre where exhibitions, conferences and other activities are hosted; it serves a residential purpose, as indeed there are still residential apartments in the building being rented out; it’s the headquarters of the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation, a non-profit foundation which has a number of projects including environmental, cultural, educational, and social initiatives; and it’s a commercial space with company offices and shops on the ground floor. So it’s much more than an apartment building nowadays!
So what would one have to do to secure an apartment in Casa Milà?
People still live in Casa Milà and this is one of the charming sides of the house. To rent one of the apartments, you just have to be very lucky and be in the right place at the right moment. The best way to rent one is to travel back in time and rent one, as right now it is not really possible anymore! The house never sleeps and it is complicated having people living inside.
A lot of people are curious about what’s inside Casa Milà – what does the inside look like? Is it anything like the outside?
It is even better than the outside! When you see the house from the outside you imagine it like a cave inside due to the massive blocks of stone that you see from the street. However, when you enter you discover colourful and bright courtyards that are more reminiscent of a fairy tale. Each part of the building has its own charm. The apartment is just like a time capsule. People really get a sense of how people lived in the house at the beginning of the 20th century. The walk though the attic makes you feel like being swallowed by a whale as you can see several arches in there reminding you of a huge whale skeleton.
And then you see the roof, the most special and stunning part of La Pedrera! On the terrace of the roof, you’ll find a unique, undulating surface with sculptures of different shapes. Some of them look alive and expressive as they look like they’re wearing helmets and some look like they’re smiling.
What about the interior of the building is uniquely Gaudí?
Every little detail has Gaudí’s touch because he was not merely taking care of the general appearance of the house but he wanted to make everything perfect. All the ceilings in La Pedrera are different, the door handles have an ergonomic design, the frames of the windows and doors were handmade. Everything is customized and aesthetic, but also functional. Every detail has a purpose.
What do you think inspired the decor and the design of Casa Milà?
Nature: it was his endless source of inspiration. As Gaudí used to say: “In order to find originality we just have to come back to our origins”. La Pedrera was Gaudí’s last civil work, a mature work, where he could express all his knowledge based on his observations of nature. In La Pedrera you see the fusion between nature and architecture.
What makes it obvious that Casa Milà was built by Gaudí?
Gaudí’s architecture is easy to identify because of its undulating shapes and its organic aspects. When you arrive in front of the building you are puzzled just by looking at the main façade because there is no other building like La Pedrera in the world. Gaudí’s style is unique and hard to imitate!
What is your favourite part of Casa Milà?
The roof terrace, of course. I really enjoy sitting down on one of the small steps of the terrace and admiring the city. The views are incredible, and the atmosphere is unique! Depending on the weather and the time of the day you see the roof in a different way as the light will be reflected differently. Maybe that is why Gaudí used just one colour to better capture the light changes.
What are some of the hidden gems or secret spots inside Casa Milà?
There’s the basement. Now it is a concert and conference hall, but when the building was first built it was used to keep carriages and horses, and later on as the car park area. Actually, it is considered to be one of the first car parks located inside an apartment building in Spain. Just imagine how modern and revolutionary this idea of Gaudí’s was back in that time!
Another special spot is the interior façade. It always remains hidden for the visitors, but once you discover it, it enchants you. It looks like it’s vibrating because of its waves. And then there is an arch on the roof that frames Sagrada Familia. It is interesting how from one of Gaudí’s masterpieces you have a window to another one. It is believed that Gaudí made that archway intentionally to keep an eye on Sagrada Familia during the building process.
There’s a social purpose in a lot of Gaudí’s work, how does Casa Milà reflect this aspect of Gaudí’s work?
Gaudí always used to adapt his designs to the needs of his clients. In the case of La Pedrera, he filled the space with a lot of light and provided ventilation for the entire building through creating two huge inner courtyards. All the rooms of the building are perfectly lit and well ventilated. The apartments can be accessed using the spacious original lifts and service staircases. The layout of the house is flexible as the building has no load bearing walls, but load bearing columns. This means that the walls simply separate the space inside and can easily be knocked and built differently without compromising the entire building. The tenants can customize their space to create as many rooms as they need or want to have. All the apartments have a different structure, which is surprising for an apartment block.
What other Gaudí masterpieces are a must-visit when people come to Barcelona?
Sagrada Familia, of course. It is considered Gaudi’s ultimate masterpiece and his greatest creation. It is the last basilica in Europa under construction, and it is unique. Through this building you can see the entire evolution of Gaudí’s architecture and his way of thinking, as it was his lifelong project. But there are other works to see if you want to discover a different Gaudí, like Palau Güell with its more medieval aesthetic or La Casa Vicens, inspired by Arabic art, or Casa Batlló, just five minutes away from Casa Milà. There are so many Gaudí masterpieces to discover!
Planning a visit to Casa Milà? Here’s what you need to know:
Getting to Casa Milà
Just a 20-minute walk away from Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà is located in the heart of Barcelona. The closest metro stops are Diagonal and Passeig de Gràcia.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 92, 08008 Barcelona
Casa Milà opening hours
By day: 09:00 – 20:30 (last entry: 20:00)
By night: 21:00 – 23:00
Tickets for Casa Milà
You can visit Casa Milà for just €12,00.