I’m sure many people have heard of Parc Guell and Palau Guell in the city of Barcelona, created by the artist and architect Gaudi and paid for by his greatest patron, Count Eusebi Guell. However, few will know of Colonia Guell, situated west of the city in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervello.
The Guell Colony was established in 1890 by industrialist Eusebi Guell on his property outside Barcelona. He built his new textile factories with all the latest technology and provided houses close by for his workers. He was keen to improve their social conditions and so included a school, cultural centre, theatre and doctor’s house enlisting some of the best architects of the time.
Gaudi was commissioned to design a church and work started in 1908. It was an ambitious project incorporating many new architectural techniques and featuring many recycled materials. However, after only completing the lower nave, work ceased in 1916 leaving a small but usable church, more commonly known as Gaudi’s Crypt.
After civil war broke out in 1936, the factory became a collective. The Guell family later recovered the property but sold it in 1945 to another industrialist who continued to produce textiles until the factory closed in 1975.
Today, the workers colony is a peaceful but popular place. The original school and schoolmaster’s house is surrounded by fencing and in need of some repair but a new school up the hill is full of excited children. The locals sit outside cafes in the main square and the cultural centre is still used for community functions. The old cooperative building is now a tourist office and interpretation centre offering audio guided tours of the colony, while the old factory buildings are being renovated and a modern business park established within them.
Eusebi Guell’s original colony may have dispersed but his vision of a happy and healthy community and successful business venture still exists.