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2008 Episode 8: Liquid Stone

The Sagrada Familia - Antoni Gaudi's most ambitious creation - was begun in the 19th century and is still under construction today.

With his tragic death in 1926, and the destruction of his original design models during the Spanish Civil War, the building languished for decades as the work of an architect who had fallen out of favour.

The loss of both the architect and his models, coupled with an esoteric sculptural style of building that was utterly unique, posed a daunting enigma for the architects who followed. With so little of the building completed, and so few clues to work from, what was the authority for completing the building the way Gaudi designed it?

For Mark Burry, an ambitious 23-year-old New Zealand architect, pondering this question proved fateful when he travelled half way around the world arriving in Barcelona in 1979. He met two of the directors of the Sagrada Familia, who had both worked with Gaudi and they offered him a grant to try and crack the master architect's complex code of geometry.

"You don't slate somebody for designing the impossible" Burry suggested, "You use human ingenuity to achieve the possible". So with nothing more than a few broken plaster models, a drawing of a single façade to provide clues and good old kiwi ingenuity, he began painstakingly recreating Gaudi's plans by hand. After completing "thousands of kilometres of line work" of his own drawings, Burry found the key: "With Gaudi every surface you see is warped, but they are all surfaces made from straight lines & with the Sagrada Familia we are actually trying to make a piece of geography".

Not only did Burry find the key to Gaudi's esoteric design models, but to accelerate this time-consuming process, Burry took the innovative step of applying aeronautical software - a step that would prove totally transformative to the long process before him, and revolutionise the practice of architecture forever.

Twenty-six years on, the exploitation of new digital technologies to analyse and interpret Gaudi's vision, and the dynamic fusion of the digital with the traditional, has made the Sagrada Familia a benchmark of innovative design practise and construction for the 21st Century. Gaudi's methods, once considered esoteric and unorthodox, make perfect sense in the fluid digital environment of computers, providing valuable insights for the buildings of our future world.

While revealing the contemporary importance of this remarkable building within the arena of emerging global architecture, the story of the Sagrada Familia and the challenge to build it according to Gaudi's vision, will be told as an intimate history through the key characters - architects Mark Burry and Jordi Bonet, model-maker Jordi Cusso and stonemason Jordi Barbany. People who have spent years of their lives immersed in solving the puzzles of Sagrada Familia's dreaming spires; all working closely as a team, with their own individual histories tied up with the history and fate of Gaudi's famous creation.

As their personal stories unfold, the challenges, controversy, drama and passion behind the construction of the Sagrada Famila Temple is revealed, as well as the intricate workings of the mind of Antoni Gaudi, the genius architect whose building continues to present challenges that even 21st century technology has difficulty fulfilling.