Have you ever experienced that feeling when you realize that you don’t know your own city as much as you should?
We feel like it is pretty common amongst people (us included) to go from one point to another without wondering what hides in between the way. And that’s what happened last Friday: We discovered a part of Barcelona that had more history to it than we could ever have imagined. Just by asking a couple of questions, we ended up learning the story of another wonderful place; and most importantly, of the man hiding behind it. A story of strength in tougher times than our own; a story of personal growth, of fearlessness and, above all, of true love.
This is the story of Manuel Sayrach.
Now, the first thing you need to know to understand this blogpost (If you are from another country) is that Barcelona’s architectural style consists mainly of Modernism, with all nine of our World Heritage art pieces being modernist. And even though Gaudí is the name that might ring a bell the most, there are many other artists who excelled during this period of time.
Manuel Sayrach was one of those people. Right from when he was very young, he had a passion and drive which outshined those of many people. And when we decided to find out more about his life, his son (Also named Manuel Sayrach) was kind enough to help us.
According to his son, Manuel Sayrach was one of those people who were interested in everything; and even though he is most known for his work as an architect, he used to dedicate his time to every possible form of art that existed. Before he reached his mid-twenties, he was already a gifted pianist and poet. He had written numerous plays and even a book in politics called República i Constitució (in English, Republic and Constitution), which received the approval of Francesc Macià – the then President of the Catalan government. And everything he did, he did in accordance to a Philosophy which he himself had created: The Light Philosophy.
It’s premise is actually pretty simple: Everybody comes from nothing. Before people are born, they’re nothing more than crinkly dust particles, which one day find their way into making a human being. After being born, everybody then enters a humanist process in which they grow both intellectually and emotionally. And when these people pass away, if they have evolved in the right way, they will find themselves turning into light.
This philosophy was what inspired most of his work as a Humanist during the era of Spanish Modernism, and what kept him going whenever he was facing rough times.
While chatting to his son, we learned that Manuel Sayrach is known for three pieces of architectural design, which tell a story both individually and as a whole. Each of these three buildings represents a stage in our planet’s life.
Sayrach jumpstarted his career as an architect in Sant Feliu de LLobregat when he decided to restore his first building, La Torre dels Dimonis – In English, the Demons’ Tower – is a building which symbolizes the Earth’s Creation. This can be noticed as the outsides of the 20-meter long tower demonstrate an ascending evolution, with carbon black pieces of rock heavily anchored to the ground and a series of lighter elements showing up as the tower grows –water, mountains, and other forms of nature which ascend until they reach the most powerful state of being according to Sayrach: Light.
His story continues in 1918 with the construction of the building for which he’s more famous: La Casa Sayrach (In English, Sayrach’s House). This building –which is considered a historic monument and is actually open to the public a few times a year– is meant to symbolize life as a whole. And even though it is commonly known as “The whipped cream house” because of its frothy-like rooftop, if you ever go inside you will actually see how it actually has nothing to do with cream but it is actually a temple which praises life in all its glory. And some of the interior design’s elements – such as engravings of seashells, jellyfish, water splashes and even a full-on sculpture of a whale’s skeleton – make you feel as if you had just gotten lost in the middle of the ocean. Needless to say, we were mesmerized by its beauty.
While chitchatting to Manuel Sayrach – the son – , we were amazed to discover that the story does not end here. And that is because Manuel Sayrach managed to design one more building before he passed away: La Casa Montserrat (Montserrat’s House), which was named after his wife. Their story, as short as it is, is actually extremely powerful.
This building is the culmination of his journey as an artist: it represents human life. And while the exteriors are decorated with sneaky engravings of MiM (meaning Manuel and Montserrat), the interior represents a theatre, the theatre in which human life plays as a masterpiece. It is an extremely personal and powerful piece, which highlights every cherished moment he spent with his wife.
To end his story, Manuel Sayrach son told us about the last thing his father ever designed. And that is their own family mausoleum. He very kindly showed us pictures of the original design, which embodied what he loved most in life: his family.
And the reason why he designed it is because at the time, after only six years of marriage but having already had five children, Manuel and Montserrat discovered that she was in grave danger of dying. The couple then decided to make a promise to themselves: whenever the time came, they would both be buried in their wedding clothes, so that they would welcome each other as if it was again the happiest day of their lives.
The mausoleum, an epitome of his humanist philosophy, also has five columns which represent every one of his sons: each of them an individual, but all anchored to the same roots. And, of course, it ends how it was supposed to end: with light.
We hope you found this story as incredible as we did. Maybe one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to brighten somebody else’s days as much as Manuel Sayrach did with his art.