Parabolic wonders. The wine cathedral of El Pinell de Brai

No wonder they call it the wine cathedral. This cellar in Pinell de Brai, Terra Alta, is the work of architect Cèsar Martinell i Brunet, and was built between 1918 and 1922. The entire interior of the winery is divided by wide-span, roof-bearing parabolic arches, which make the entire space feel light and luminous.

El Pinell de Brai is located in the middle of a small plain, surrounded by mountains. Right in the center of the town, the winery stands out in size and finishes.

The monumental façade of the winery comprises three naves and is designed on three levels. From bottom to top, architect Cèsar Martinell laid out: a high stone base for doors and low ventilation windows, framed in bush hammered stone; a plastered masonry and brick level, with generous openings; and a powerful corniche with brick pinnacles which mark several points of the roof.

The inside of the Pinell de Brai winery is a large open space defined by the rhythm of the parabolic roof-bearing arches. These huge arches have perforated spandrels which enhance the building’s feeling of lightness and luminosity.

The impressive height, the feeling of spaciousness generated by the arches, and the trilobate windows which led the light flood the interior, make the winery look indeed like a Gothic cathedral.

But beyond the architectural beauty of the building, Cèsar Martinell also created a functional space for wine production. The architect had developed his own studies on the necessities of the wine industry in terms of ventilation, heat transmission and carbonic acid evacuation. And his design immensely improves the functional aspects, as well as the structural and building cost-related ones.

Martinell’s main contribution to the industrial architecture of his time was formulating a type of agricultural cellar which uses standardized pieces of brick and ceramics, thus lowering the price of the construction and making the siteworks easier and faster. Still, the design is full of carefully carried-out details.

Another original element of the design is the ceramic frieze crowning the base of the façade and running from end to end of the over 40 meters of façade.

Painted by Francesc Xavier Nogués, it humorously depicts scenes of grape and olive harvest and production. Despite its spectacular nature, due to lack of budget, it was removed from the initial project and was not incorporated until 1949.

Cèsar Martinell i Brunet (1888 – 1973) was a Catalan architect who designed in Modernist and Noucentiste style. Admirer of Gaudí and multifaceted person, he was also investigator, divulgator, and art historian.

Catalan painter, engraver and illustrator Xavier Nogués is one of the most representative artists of Noucentisme. His work is inspired by the traditions of Catalan popular art.

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