In 1878 Antoni Gaudí was just a recent graduate of the Higher Technical School of Architecture. He was 26 years old, with his entire work and life ahead of him. However, from the very beginning, this young man from Reus kept on doing one job after another. In those early years Gaudí was commissioned to design street lamps for the Royal Square in Barcelona, a display case for the Esteban Comella Guantería and the furniture for the chapel-pantheon of the Sobrellano Palace in Comillas. Also in 1878 Gaudí received his first major project: the design of the Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense (Mataró workers’ cooperative), of which today only the Nau Gaudí remains.
The warehouse, located in the town of Mataró, is probably the simplest building that the architect designed. This is so, at least in part, due to the role that the building was to fulfill. At first, Nau Gaudí was to be part of an industrial complex that would follow the model of the workers’ colonies. Which means, factory buildings where employees would work, along with about thirty houses, a casino with a garden and a service building, among other buildings for the leisure of the workers. The Mataró warehouse was known as the laundering warehouse, but not of money, but of cotton. In the end, it was the only one that survived time.
The most remarkable element of Nau Gaudí lies in its inclusion of 13 parabolic arches, following the style of the architect Philibert de l’Orme. In this way the Catalan artist was able to take advantage of all the space of the warehouse without the need to build columns or pillars. It was a very innovative proposal for those years. Moreover, it would be a recurrent resource in Gaudí’s works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the beginning, this room, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, kept elements such as the lye boilers, the mincing machine or the centrifugal draining machine. Now it houses the headquarters of the Consorci Museu d’Art Contemporani of Mataró. The Bassat collection is exhibited there, as well as other samples of local art.
Next to the Nau Gaudí, a latrine pavilion was also preserved, which is a public toilet. Despite the building’s harshness, the toilets also have a couple of features that the artist would later use. First, the roof built as an elevated lap allows for air renewal. A system that would later be used in the ventilation towers of the famous Casa Vicens. Secondly, there are the details, those that would make Gaudí a unique architect. In this case it is just a few glazed ceramic tiles arranged in the windows and doors.
The initial project of which the Warehouse of Mataró was a part was, as mentioned above, much more ambitious. In the 19th century, in addition to communism and before Marxism, ideologies such as utopian socialism and cooperativism proliferated. In 1864, in line with these ideas, the industrialist Salvador Pagès i Anglada founded the Mataró Workers’ Cooperative in Barcelona. However, in 1874 the industrialist decided to move it to Mataró.
At first, the works were entrusted to the engineer Joan Brunet y Alsina until Gaudí took over the work. Despite having drawn up all the plans for the project, the artist was only able to complete the bleaching warehouse, the services and a couple of houses. He would continue with the complex until 1888, but the lack of capital prevented him from going any further. A project that, despite being shattered, was the beginning of Gaudí’s legend.