TUNNELLING WORK planned below Gaudi's celebrated unfinished Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona could cause severe damage to the structure, its chief architect has warned.
Work on the 12m diameter tunnel, part of the 600km highspeed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona, funded by central government, is scheduled to take place directly beneath the front facade of the surrealist masterpiece.
It is feared the 22,500t structure would suffer major subsidence and structural damage as a result of the tunnelling, particularly as the ground conditions include poor bearing materials such as decomposing rock, shale, sand and water deposits.
Architectural director Jordi Bonet i Armengol told NCE he was particularly worried because the building is 'equilibrated', meaning it has been designed statically in symmetry with no vertical columns.
'It's a very experimental structure and we have no experience of what happens when you bring new forces into play, ' said Bonet. 'We believe the tunnel poses a real threat to the church. This is a World Heritage Site and there are alternative routes so why risk it?' Bonet is not satisfied with plans to strengthen the ground beneath the church using a series of concrete caissons 1.5m in diameter, 42m deep, connected by a horizontal beam forming a protective wall between the building and the tunnel. The wall's top would come within 1.75m of the church's foundations.
But Spanish rail authority ADIF is confident in its design.
A spokesperson said: 'ADIF stands by the route and the design. There have been studies not just to protect the church but also nearby houses.' However, Bonet is hopeful the route could still be changed.
'The project is still waiting on final permissions and we think there is still a hope we might be able to get the route changed, but so far the government is digging its heels in, ' he said. 'They say this is the best solution because it is a straight line.' Bonet's campaign against the tunnel is supported by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and several thousand local residents who recently formed a human chain around the church.
The church has been under construction for 125 years and is expected to take another 30 years to complete. Its architect, Antoni Gaudi, died after being run over by a tram in 1926.