Gaudi was renowned for his iconic buildings and structures that often incorporated religious imagery and arches as well as the natural world to create unique and striking buildings, however, this structure stands in stark contrast to some of his later more ornate work. Since 1982 the building has been a Cultural Property of National Interest as declared by the Catalan Government.
The Nau Gaudi was a cotton bleaching shed and is a classic example of Gaudi's experimentation in parabolic arches which he used for the first time in this structure. From this point onwards parabolic arches became a key feature of many other structures created by Gaudi. Gaudi started work on this project in 1878 not long after he had completed studies at the Barcelona School of Architecture, and he collaborated extensively with another architect from the region – Emili Cabanyes. The objective was to integrate pre-existing buildings with a complex of new industrial structures. The site would house 30 family dwellings and a central services area that would include a library, school, head office and social club. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the full complex came to fruition and this entailed two buildings for the director and caretaker, a latrine building and the cotton bleaching shed, and only the latter two have been preserved.
From an early age Gaudi had a professional relationship and a personal friendship with the textile industrialist Salvador Pages who was a prominent leader of the Catalonian co-operative movement at the end of the 19th century. Salvador Pages was the founder of the Mataró Workers Cooperative and Gaudi was commissioned to undertake the project based on Page's idealistic vision of a Utopian Socialist society in which the complex would be structured like a small city with facilities for the members of the co-operative. Gaudi was strongly influenced by his heritage and background and studied architecture when he could not be enlisted for military service due to health problems. He subsequently combined this with his other passions for religion and nature and incorporated these into many of his designs, of which arches became a typical feature of many of his creations.
Although the Nau Gaudi is based on clean, simple lines, it is stunning precisely because of it's large, sweeping style and aesthetic design. The structure comprises of 13 parabolic arches which are formed by lengths of wood connected with bolts. This enabled the large space of 600 square meters to be constructed to form a wide open space without the need for interior pillars or columns, and this was considered a very innovative venture for the era that Gaudi lived in. Unlike Gaudi's other decorative and extraordinary works, this building stands for utility and functionality combined with the beauty and simplicity of the building materials and design.