The Art Nouveau Hospital
The last years of the Hospital de la Santa Creu coincide with the advent of the great urban transformation of Barcelona: the implementation of the Cerdà Plan and the construction of the Eixample 'new town'.
It was during this period of Barcelona's expansion beyond its old city walls that Pau Gil i Serra, a Catalan banker living in Paris, died, in 1896. Gil established in his will that his estate be devoted to building a new hospital in Barcelona, and made it clear that the new centre should bring together the latest innovations in technology, architecture and medicine, and be dedicated to Saint Paul (Sant Pau). The result was the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.
The agreement between the Board of the Hospital de la Santa Creu and the executors of Pau Gil's will made possible the construction of this new hospital on a site belonging to the Santa Creu bordering on the districts of Gràcia, Horta, Guinardó and Sant Martí de Provençals.
A competition was announced for the construction of the new hospital, but none of the three projects submitted was judged suitable. After further deliberations, the commission was entrusted to Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923), one of the outstanding figures of Catalan Modernisme.
In drawing up his project, the great architect was inspired by the most modern hospitals in Europe. Embracing the latest thinking on sanitation and hygiene, he designed a hospital organised as a series of separate pavilions, surrounded by gardens and interconnected by a network of underground tunnels. Although Domènech's original scheme comprised a total of 48 buildings, only 27 were actually constructed.
In essence, Domènech created a plan articulated by two axes, one vertical and one horizontal, in the form of a cross, the emblem of the old Hospital de la Santa Creu, patently summarizing and symbolizing the history of Barcelona's hospitals and the allegorical values of the Middle Ages.
In 1902, work began on the first twelve buildings of the new complex, laid out on a different orientation from the urban grid of the Eixample. Each building was assigned to a different medical specialty. The natural lighting, the good ventilation and the restrained elegance of the décor made the new Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau a unique place in the world, a pioneering model hospital which affirmed the importance of open space and sunlight in the treatment of patients.
On the death of the architect, his son, Pere Domènech i Roura, took charge of the completion of the work in its final stage. King Alfonso XIII formally opened the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in January 1930.
Over the years, in addition to being the city's hospital of reference, Sant Pau has become a prominent landmarkwithin the cultural heritage of Barcelona and Catalonia. It was declared a Historic Artistic Monument in 1978, and was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
With the years, too, the ever greater demand for hospital treatment and the structural wear and tear on the buildings made it increasingly difficult for the Modernista complex to meet the demands placed on it and maintain the quality of care. This made it necessary to consider constructing a new, modern hospital suited to the needs of present-day medical practice. Domènech i Montaner's superb buildings seemed to have reached the end of their working life.
In the autumn of 2009, Sant Pau's healthcare activities were transferred to a modern building located in the northernsection of the grounds, and the Modernista complex took on a new lease of life. A painstakingly thorough restoration has reaffirmed the value of Domènech i Montaner's work and established Sant Pau as a major international centre for knowledge and a new cultural landmark.