If You Build It...

In Barcelona on June 7, 1926 an unkempt old man shuffled along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. He was so deep in thought; he didn’t hear the tram that knocked him unconscious.

When the police arrived at the accident, they searched his threadbare clothing for identification.

Finding none, they assumed he was a beggar.

So they took him to the pauper’s hospital at Santa Creu Hospital where he received rudimentary medical care.

By the time a priest confirmed the old man’s identity the following day, his condition had deteriorated and he never regained consciousness.

On June 10, 1926 Antonio Gaudi, one of the most influential architects of the Twentieth Century, died aged 73.

Two days later, thousands of Barcelonians came to the funeral for the architect whose remarkable buildings adorned their city.

They mourned the man who had lain unconscious and unrecognised in the street.

Gaudi’s buildings were flamboyant, but he was not.

Unlike many of his contemporaries he didn’t crave publicity or celebrity.

The man responsible for so much beauty was a deeply devoted Catholic and the last 10 years of his life had been dedicated to building the cathedral Sagrada Familia.

‘’The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God” Gaudi said, and the building is infused with his love of nature.

Its exuberance originally divided the city.

George Orwell called it, “the ugliest building on earth.”

Gaudi had first become involved with the project in 1883 and gradually it became an obsession.

During the last few months of his life he slept on site in a cot next to his workshop.

He knew the cathedral could not be finished in his lifetime, but it was as if he could not bear to be parted from the nascent building.

Asked about the monumental undertaking he replied, “My client is not in a hurry.”

It was just as well, construction was estimated to last 200 years.

When he died, not even a quarter of the cathedral was finished.

So his close associate Domenec Sugranes became the first of several architects to take charge of the project.

Progress continued to be slow, construction relied entirely on donations.

There were always obstacles, during the Spanish Civil War; the crypt was set on fire.

Eventually conditions improved and following the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, entry fees from visitors would largely fund construction.

In 2005 the still unfinished Sagrada Familia was declared a UNESCO heritage site.

It remains unfinished today.

Even with the introduction of computer aided design and automated stone carving, completion is not scheduled until 2026.

That year that will also mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

There’s a growing movement to make Gaudi a saint.

It’s certainly miraculous that such a colossal undertaking started with a pencil and paper—with an idea.


A Buddha in Bangkok

In 1955 or so, in the shadow of Bangkok’s Hualampong Railway Station on the edge of Chinatown, a nondescript temple called Wat Traimit had almost completed their renovations. One of the remaining tasks was to move a stucco Buddha from the yard into the newly enlarged building.

The Buddha had been too big for the old temple so it sat in the yard under a humble tin roof, ever since its arrival from another temple in the 1930s.

Now it had a proper home.

Accordingly, an engineer was contracted to calculate the weight of the Buddha and a crane hired.

A generous safety margin was added to the estimated weight.

But when the crane operator hoisted the Buddha a few feet into the air, the cable snapped.

Since it was rainy season, the Buddha fell into the heavy mud below.

It cracked in several places.

This was seen as a bad omen.

Next a tumultuous storm started.

It drenched the city all night long.

This was seen as an even worse omen.

The following morning the Abbot squelched through the mud to evaluate the situation.

Where the stucco had cracked, the rain had eroded it, making the cracks bigger.

And through one of them the Abbot could see something glistening, something that looked like gold.

Encased inside the stucco was a second Buddha.

It was 3 metres tall.

It weighed 5.5 tonnes.

It was solid gold.

Today, just the bullion value would be around $300 million and the total value, somewhere north of priceless.

Buddhism doesn’t really endorse miracles.

But the Abbot may perhaps have been forgiven if he thought he was witnessing one.

The most probable explanation for this extraordinary discovery is, perhaps sadly, a little more prosaic.

The Buddha made been sculpted during the Sukhothai period of the 13th century.

At some point, probably in the 15th century the Buddha had been camouflaged to outsmart a marauding Burmese army who were laying siege to its home city of Ayutthaya.

As we know, the Buddha survived, but over the centuries the Buddha’s provenance was forgotten.

For centuries the Buddha was thought to have little value.

For centuries people had venerated the Buddha without understanding its true nature.

Without suspecting what lay beneath the dull surface.

Without an inkling of the priceless artefact, sitting under a humble tin roof in the temple yard, for 25 odd years.

If you’re unsure what this has to do with advertising, you must read between the lines Grasshopper.

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