I’m in Barcelona for a few weeks, seeing the sights, doing some work, and eating some tapas. When you tell people you’re going to Barcelona, they mostly say, “ooh, Gaudí!” I only barely knew who Gaudí was, but now, having seen two of his houses and his monumental church, La Sagrada Familia, I can enlighten you. He was an architect of the Art Nouveau, and he designed buildings that were delightfully kooky. Lots of curved surfaces and brightly decorated chimneys and odd little features.
The other day I visited Casa Batlló. I wasn’t planning to blog about it. But then the audio tour was so annoying that I couldn’t keep it to myself.
If you were visiting an apartment building designed by a famous architect, and you were listening to the audio tour, which is the only source of information – there’s no wall text – wouldn’t you think that one of the first things you’d want to know was that it’s an apartment building? Somehow, that piece of information didn’t make it into the audio tour until pretty late, when they sort of mentioned the apartments in passing. If you, like me, didn’t already know that this wasn’t just the Batlló family’s house, you would be very confused about why the tour of their house wrapped up after one floor.
You might also be interested in learning things like where the Batlló family got their money, or why they thought it was a good idea to hire this architect, or the fact that it wasn’t new construction but actually a renovation of an older building, or what the neighbors thought about the absolutely insane facade.
Anyway, if you’re looking to the audio guide to tell you these things, you’d be looking at the wrong place. It started with a defense of the extremely high entrance fee and kind of went downhill from there, with a lot of description of what we’re looking at–which, you know, I can see for myself–and very little context.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing that made me roll my eyes. In one room, the guide told me: “In this part of the attic…, there is an unforgettable experience waiting for you. Once this commentary has finished, why not let yourself be carried away by the music and projected images.” That’s some overblown silliness for you right there, especially considering that the thing that was supposed to carry you away was video clips of bits of Gaudí buildings accompanied by excitable piano music. Forgive me for not being transported. The guide kept doing that, telling me what to feel and what opinions I should have.
Bad communication really gets on my nerves. There are a lot of people who have thought about how best to communicate. They could all tell you that, say, if you have a room on a roof where the water tanks used to be installed, and you use sound effects and light projections to evoke the feeling of running water, you don’t have to also tell people that you are using sound and visuals to evoke the feeling of water. You let the experience stand on its own. On the other hand, here are some things that might be worth telling your visitors when they’re visiting the water tank room: Was running water new? What were the tanks made of? Where did the water come from?
Oh, and for a touch of commercialism, the last recording on the audio tour was about the exhibition of chairs designed by Gaudí, including some “exquisite flower-inspired carvings”–how about letting me decide if they’re exquisite or not–and how you should go into the shop and order one, which they would deliver to your house with the utmost of care.
My crankiness about the audio tour aside, the house is fantastic. Gaudí was a creative guy. But if you go, take a guidebook.
Entrance to this historic building is €18.15, which is $23, and it is full of visitors. Perhaps the owners of Casa Batlló should take some of that cash and give it to someone who knows how to write an audio tour.