As I enter the colonnade at the Parc Guell in Barcelona and walk between the giant pillars I am filled with awe. Above my head the undulating ceiling is decorated tile shards, glittering as they catch the light. The grandness of the columns and the contrast of classical style alongside radically unique design create a surreal ambience, like nothing I have experienced before.
I wander across to the Portico of a Washerwoman and weave beneath the irregular buttresses that make up this entrance way, full of wonder for these man-made structures that seem to have grown from the earth, their irregular patterns mimicking the natural world. In these moments of marvel I’m transported out of my mundane thoughts to an uplifted emotional state. I feel connected to the extraordinary architect, Antoni Gaudi, who created this space a century ago; I am genuinely elevated by his vision.
Improving our sense of wellbeing
The report by the Arts Council of England on The Value of Arts and Culture on People and Society identifies the importance of this connection between our inner wellbeing and cultural experiences. Former chair of the Arts Council Sir Peter Bazalgette said: ‘When we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world.’
The fascinating study reveals that: ‘Those who had attended a cultural place or event in the previous 12 months were almost 60 per cent more likely to report good health compared to those who had not.’ It goes on to explain that engagement in the arts and culture not only improves our cognitive abilities, but it also has a measurable positive impact on specific health conditions, including dementia and depression.
Just do it
It was with this in mind that I was inspired to travel to Barcelona to see for myself the Parc Guell and other buildings created by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. I had long admired the work of this extraordinary man, famous for his unique, organic structures inspired by the natural world. In contrast to the straight lines and square boxes we now consider the norm in our modern cities, Gaudi’s buildings swell, ripple and seem to grow from the earth towards the sky across Barcelona. EasyJet could get me there in a couple of hours for less than a dinner for two, so why not treat myself to a life-enriching experience? As I’d learned, workshops, yoga, juicing and positive thinking aren’t the only ways to improve both my health and wellbeing.
Room with a view
I was lucky enough to stay in a hotel from which I could actually see many of the buildings I planned to visit. At 44 stories high, the Hotel Arts offers incredible views across the city. From my suite I could see Gaudi’s extraordinary church, Sagrada Família, towering above the surrounding houses.
The hotel itself was designed by architect Bruce Graham to house visitors to the 1992 Olympic Games. The glass and stainless steel structure contrasts with the curved, Gaudi buildings, but the height combined with the floor to ceiling glass windows offered glorious views of the sunset, when the sky turned a vibrant pink, giving the buildings below a fuchsia sheen. Here, I was also able to sample some of the local cuisine in their Club Lounge and cocktail bar.
The rest of my weekend was filled with visits to one stunning structure after another. There are many Gaudi buildings in this beautiful city, some open to the public with entrance fees, others in use and inhabited, and it is nearly impossible to see them all in a few days, but with a friendly guided tour I managed many.
From La Pedrera, a residential building that seems closer to a sculpture than a block of flats, to Sagrada Familia, the towering church that is still being finished today, all of them stemmed from one man’s unique, personal vision combining a connection between man, nature and spirituality. Ahead of his time, he used geometric patterns, such as fractals, in his designs, finding influence and beauty in the actual cellular structures of nature.
I came away deeply inspired and wondering why I hadn’t made this trip before. As the Arts Council say, there are many studies that show the positive impact cultural activities can have on our self-esteem, well-being and health, but still, we often find ourselves too busy to take a weekend away, visit a gallery or go to a show.
So, where will you go on your next cultural journey? I’m thinking Rome, Venice, Prague perhaps, but in the meantime perhaps I’ll make the time to take my son to The Tate and see what’s on at my local theatre.
To read more about the Arts Council visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk.