STEAM in Spain

by | Oct 5, 2017 | Blog, Curiosity Piqued

I recently took a trip to Spain, starting out in Barcelona and finishing in the coastal towns on the Bay of Biscay. Having STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) running through my veins, all I could see was “making” through the ages as I toured this amazing country. Spain is brimming with examples of how art and science so beautifully blend. From sculpture and architecture to food and flavor, Spanish culture is truly scientifically inspiring.

For over 1,000 years, humans have built, destroyed and rebuilt towns throughout Northwestern Spain. You can feel the overwhelming layers of culture all around as you move from town to town. The juxtaposition of contemporary works on a backdrop of middle-age architecture is a stunning experience. Styles are visibly cyclical, but come back in different forms. Mosaic tiles, for example, are an ancient technique for constructing large scenic works. However, there are many gorgeous outdoor sculptures employing hundreds of thousands of small tiles in exquisite patterns.

Probably the most celebrated architect and artist in Spain is Antoni Gaudi. Gaudí’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. His architecture can be seen throughout Catalonia and beyond. I visited the famous Park Güell to see his work intermingled in a natural landscape. Full of arches, mosaics and surprising color schemes, it is obvious why leaders chose to open this park to the public rather than it be a neighborhood for the rich, as originally planned.

Antoni Gaudi took traditional forms and created completely new applications. He is known to use as few straight lines as possible. I was told by a tour guide that his reason for doing so is that straight lines are very rare in nature. It is evident how nature so greatly influenced his works. His most awe inspiring work that I visited was Sagrada Família, a Roman Catholic “minor basilica” that was started in 1882 and is not yet finished.

As the Science Program Coordinator here at Randall Museum, it is my job to spread knowledge on science in nature, which is why Gaudi’s creations piqued my curiosity so directly. The above photo depicts the columns inside Sagrada Família, which were modeled after trees. Not a single one of these massive columns is vertical, just like trees in a forest. A rainbow of colored glass fills each side of the basilica, especially the East and West sides. Though meant to be a sacred space of religious worship, Gaudi’s most amazing work pays full respect to our wondrous natural world.

The most amazing aspect of Sagrada Família is that Antoni Gaudi designed the many arches of the basilica upside-down using hanging strings and weights. Gaudi devoted ten years of his life to a “hanging chain” model made of weights on strings that would serve as an upside down version of the arched forms he sought. He traced the outline of the church he was designing on a wooden board (1:10 scale), which he then placed on the ceiling of a small house next to the work site. He hung cords from the points where columns were to be placed. Next he hung small sacks filled with pellets, weighing one ten-thousandth part of the weight the arches would have to support, from each catenaric arch formed by the cords. This is truly one of the most stunning examples of scientific art!

This trip has stoked my fire as a STEAM educator here at Randall Museum. We have redesigned the Randall Museum with the guiding quote from Albert Einstein that if you “…look deeper into nature you will understand everything better.” The art and architecture of Spain have proven that true to me once again. I am so looking forward to the Randall Museum reopening in the near future and sharing the many lessons from nature with our community.

Marcus Wojtkowiak

Marcus Wojtkowiak

Science Program Coordinator

I LOVE learning new things. More than I love learning new things, I love sharing awesome discoveries about our world with others.

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