Last night, 60 Minutes paid a visit to Barcelona to view the progress on starchitect Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia basilica. That progress has been, by anyone's estimation, glacially slow. Originally designed in 1883, the towering church has been under construction ever since. That's 130 years of construction, with an interruption attributed to the Spanish Civil War—when Gaudí's original plaster models were blown to pieces by anarchists—and confusion over Gaudí's intentions, as he died in 1926, leaving less than a quarter of the church complete. As 60 Minutes discovered, later architects, engineers, and sculptors have been drawn to the gargantuan structure, some devoting their lives to the great architect's yet-incomplete magnum opus. Now, with the gigantic central tower the final missing piece, the church Gizmodo called "the most ambitious cathetral in human history" is finally nearing completion. Of course, in Sagrada Familia time, that means the builders are hoping to have it ready for 2026, the centennial of Gaudí's death.
Part of the 60 Minutes segment focuses on the 87-year-old Jordi Bonet, the current director of the project, first set foot on the site when he was just seven years old. His father, Lluís Bonet, was one of four architects who managed the project for 40 years before handing the role over to his son, who has now spent eight decades watching the structure grow, without seeing it completed. If the project reaches its 2026 target date, much of it will have to do with the techniques employed by Bonet. His daughter, also an architect, is today employed on the site.
The astounding interiors are mostly complete now, including the dozens of forked columns inspired by a forest. The complex architectural models that Gaudí created were blown to pieces during the civil war, but the dedicated project architects collected the remnants and stored them in a special room beneath the site. In 1977, Cambridge University architecture student Mark Burry was introduced to the problem of reconstructing those models. He has since devoted his professional career to the puzzle, employing software originally intended for the aerospace industry to make sense of Gaudi's century-old plans.
That sense of singular devotion is common on this project. Just take a look at Japanese-born sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who has made his studio on the Sagrada Familia site for the past 35 years, carving many of the stone icons that now adorn the newer facades. Sotoo is so devoted to this particular task that he converted from Buddhism to Catholicism, to better understand Gaudí's inspiration and mind set.
Once complete, the basilica will boast a central tower that will reach 566 feet, making it the world's tallest church. According to 60 Minutes' Lara Logan, "Gaudí designed it to be three feet shorter than the tallest surrounding mountain, in deference to God." Blessed as a basilica in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, the church is—or at least is destined to be—one of the wonders of the modern world.