Transcending Media: How Antoni Gaudí Influenced Artificial Intelligence

Architect Antoni Gaudi sits for black and white portrait
Portrait of late architect Antoni Gaudí

Architecture Meets AI

Inspiration is a continuity in the art space that transcends generations. Throughout art history, tons of highly influential names shaped generations of artists to come. However, few have influenced the digital landscape so much that their work sparks a resurgence in technique. For Antoni Gaudí, this influence is so intense that AI-generated concepts of his work have even impacted the NFT space. Even more so, these images have become the source of more man-made architectural designs. Gaudí’s history as an influential art figure set the foundation for a resurgence and the cyclical nature of how technological breakthroughs have resulted in his techniques from centuries ago making a comeback in modern architecture. 

The Foundations of Influence

Antoni Gaudí matched his devotion to Roman Catholicism with a passion for medieval architecture, which led to the craftsmanship of an unforgettable and impeccable intersection of culture, religion, and art of the 19th and 20th centuries. His father, who was a coppersmith, heavily influenced Antoni’s architectural designs in terms of metalwork. The iconic architect looked to Asian and Moorish influences, along with the Gothic era of Spain and France, as foundations for his blueprints. With all of that said, Gaudí felt distinctly in competition with architects of the Middle Ages, which led to nature being centerfold in his designs.  

Inside ceiling of Sagrada Familia Cathedral

When Gaudí was a young child, he suffered from rheumatism, a term that characterizes disordered joints and muscles. With limited mobility compared to able and active children, Gaudí developed an infatuation with nature, for which he grew intellectually dedicated to natural patterns and geometry. His physical restrictions instead gave rise to a body of work that encompasses the phantasmagorical movement of scientifically, impossibly flexible buildings. Interesting is the paradox for which young Antoni’s anatomical conditions qualified a web of discovery of his environment, foreshadowing his craftsmanship of bone-like, surreal, and natural yet disfigured structures that came to life. Though Gaudí's craft is one that is left unfinished, AI (artificial intelligence) allows for his legacy to advance.

Black and white graphic of Catalonian Modernist architect Francesc Berenguer
Architect Francesc Berenguer with designs

Gaudí’s visions and executions suggested a specifically regional identity, which marked him as one of the leading architects of the Art Nouveau movement (1890-1910) and Catalan Modernism. Alan Colquhoun, author of “Modern Architecture,” equates Gaudí to his contemporary architect Francesc Beremguer, characterizing their work through a “mix of historic ‘inventions’ with new structural ideas, such as the use of exposed iron beams and catenary vaults.” These structural details can be identified in several of Gaudí’s projects, but most significantly, the larger-than-life, yet unfinished, Cathedral of Sagrada Familia located in Barcelona. Colquhoun goes on to describe Sagrada Familia’s facades “as if they have been eroded through millennia or dipped in acid, leaving only incomprehensible traces of some forgotten language.” In observing Gaudí’s architecture, we can clearly decipher his structural surrealism, giving life to the Surrealists of the 1930s, including household names such as Salvador Dali and Joan Miro. 

The Supernatural and Immersive

Gaudí's influence on the incredible surrealist artist Dalí has been long recorded. The Carrières de Lumières, a small museum located in Provence, France, hosted two immersive installation exhibits featuring the two Catalonian artists. The experience was divided into two, titled, Dalí, the endless enigma, and Gaudí, the Architect of the Imaginary, and the length of the visit was 40 minutes. The painter and architect’s work emulates psychedelic fantasies, with curvilinear, natural, and distorted forms, complemented with multi-colored detail. They both created their own worlds within and throughout their work, so the choice to curate the two together in a supernatural and immersive exhibit seems fitting. 

Carrières de Lumières Dalí and Gaudí immersive exhibition

A Bridge Between Worlds

Gaudí influenced AI long before software became more accessible to a broader range of artists. Merely five years ago, Gaudí’s influence resided at the intersection of the physical and digital landscape—but in one of the most unconventional ways. Instead of people using technology to make their inspirations a reality, a trained AI did all the thinking and “creativity.” This artificial intelligence, crafted in collaboration with IBM and Softlabs, could select its own materials and concepts. 

IBM and Softlabs's Gaudí inspired AI sculpture

The groups trained the AI on Gaudí’s styles and techniques to help the computer make decisions that capture his highly expressive organic forms. So, in a way, the AI wasn’t completely independent in thought, but could still craft a piece using Gaudí as inspiration. The piece was first released to the public in May 2017 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The interactive installation remained on display until January of the following year. 

Here, digital imagination was able to cross into reality. As people moved around the room, the sculpture would continue to think and interact with others, moving to follow people walking and shifting in form. While thinking and creativity are impossible for a bot to achieve, a sense of organic and Catalan modernism radiated from the piece as if Gaudí were reaching from the digital realm. 

Gaudí and AI's Influence on the NFT Space

Understanding which AI image generators are used can help better clarify how Gaudism has made its impact in the NFT space. Midjourney is an AI image-generating software digital artists use to create pieces and concepts. What is unique about Midjourney compared to other AIs is that it is only accessible within Discord. This community-centric communication platform allows for bot automation to carry out specific commands. Users can program bots based on subscription level to help improve cohesion within specific pieces and consistency amongst batches of images.  Published images make the prompts used public as well so anyone can see how an artist wrote a piece into being. 

 A couple of months ago, content creators flocked to Midjourney’s competitor DALL-E as another source for computer-generated images. The prompts for these images were typically more simple and used by the general public to experiment with the revolutionary software. Think of Midjourney as where artists would experiment with Antoni Gaudí and brutalism. DALL-E is where you would find generative images of “Tony Hawk doing a kickflip off a coffin.” DALL-E 2 is now open and available to download as an app for all users, increasing public access to the technology. 

By using Midjourney, digital artists can experiment with Gaudism in limitless settings and applications. A building could be generated with his influence while also experimenting with its location, generating structures on other planets and custom biomes. In addition, interior design concepts can be explored inside Gaudi-inspired structures to capture the natural fluidity and flexibility of his designs in ways never seen before.

Now, the whole process of using Midjourney to create art seems simple and complicated at the same time, but how do digital art creators using this software make money from the images? Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are valuable digital assets traded on online marketplaces, for which their transactions are validated on their respective blockchains. The blockchain infrastructure of NFT trading validates ownership publicly, which creates a decentralized economy.  This digital decentralization creates a supply and demand for digital images and videos and comes with exclusive connections associated with high status and caliber. NFTs ramped up in popularity when the pandemic hit along with the rise of cryptocurrency. This increase in digital presence became a way to influence and profit from a fluctuating economy from home. By inserting a blockchain into these images, their value increases and fluctuates in response to the economy. Much like stocks, their monetary value is unstable, and it can take a lot of research to understand market patterns. However, these blockchains add perspective to the computational nature of AI-generated images, almost like a personality. For example, this unique characteristic of AI NFTs, especially those inspired by renowned artists like Antoni Gaudí, reinforces the stance of coded images as valuable art. 

Now Antoni Gaudí’s influence has become a part of the exodus of elitism from the exposition to the digital landscape thanks to AI image generators. 

Full Circle: AI Gaudísm and Contemporary Architecture

The idea which AI can capture the passion of respected late artists is, of course, impossible, but AI is a form of artwork that allows viewers and society to think about architecture differently. First, it prompts users to discover the originating idea, which in this case, is that of Gaudí. Rather than technology hindering the beauty of the architect’s creativity, we can imagine a lost reality for which Gaudí created so surrealistically. The Gaudism AI project intensively draws the viewer in due to mind-bending yet sleek images, but they would not be possible without the original mind behind the synthetic forms. Rather than capturing the passion that technology cannot feel, the project exemplifies the longevity for which Gaudí’s influence and legacy will extend into the future. 

The fact that AI is a computation of all known data to create that which is otherworldly must be addressed. This does not discredit the origination. Instead, the concept as a whole extends the creativity that was left unfinished by Gaudí himself. But this is not the start nor the end, and morality will come into question once there is little to no trace of the true Gaudí vision. To not lose sight of this, a cyclical structure may be implied in the scenario of memorabilia to make the world of art and architecture more advanced. Missing from the project is the detail of color, stained glass figures, height, and dimension that can only be physically felt and received from personally traveling through such spaces. Does the ethicality of these suggestions mean to justify the AI project, it must be realistically executed? 

Future Implications of AI Gaudísm

Gaudí’s work has been a vessel for creativity and inspiration for over a century. From Casa Mila to his unfinished Cathedral of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí revolutionized how artists expressed themselves in their pieces, leading to the emergence of Surrealism and other notable architects like Dali. Even centuries after his death, his work transcends physical spaces by continuing to influence artists across all media. We may be far removed from his era, but Gaudi has left an impression so deep within our culture that his work will continue to pervade the nuances of society for decades to come, from virtual reality to the real world.

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