Born into a family of boiler makers and copper workers of Riudoms, in 1873 he left for Barcelona to study at the Provincial School of Architecture. While studying, he worked as a draughtsman with the architects Francesc Villar and J. Fontserè.
He qualified as an architect in 1878 and soon received his first commission: to draw up the plans for the buildings of the Cooperativa Obrera Tèxtil (Textile Workers' Cooperative, 1878-1883; Mataró). That same year he designed the display cabinets for a glove manufacturer at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, which is where he met the E. Güell, the industrialist who was to become his patron.
Güell began by commissioning him to design furniture and decorative objects for some of his houses and for his father-in-law, the marquis of Comillas, and in 1885 he engaged Gaudí to build Palau Güell (1885-1889; Nou de la Rambla, 3-5), the architect's first building in Barcelona. Gaudí also drew up the plans for Park Güell (1900-1914) for the same family. That same year he designed the lampposts in Plaça Reial and Pla de Palau, which were made in the workshop belonging to E. Puntí.
His early work shows the influence of historical architecture, intent on reclaiming medieval features, but his plans soon reveal his own conception of architecture, which he understood as an all-embracing art, and his aim to pay attention to all the elements comprising it. Therefore he did not confine himself to the plans for buildings, but also designed furniture to go in them, floors and complementary items of decoration.
He received commissions from the upper classes of Barcelona, for whom he constructed his best works, such as Casa Batlló (1904; Passeig de Gràcia, 43) and Casa Milà, La Pedrera (1906-1910; Passeig de Gràcia, 92 - Provença, 261-265), buildings in which the architect amazed everyone with his structural and decorative innovations. Moreover, he himself designed all the furniture for a large number of his buildings, such as Casa Batlló (Cadira [Chair], circa 1907, and Sofà doble [Double Sofa], circa 1907; both in the MNAC collection).
The curvilinear façades, the catenary arches, the use of trencadís (broken tile work) on the exteriors, the decorative intention in the intrinsic elements of a block of flats, such as the chimneys and inner courtyards, etc., all reveal his passion for nature - he even enrolled in a natural history class - which he interpreted in his own way until he had fashioned his very own architectural language.
In 1883 Joan Martorell proposed Gaudí as the director of works of the Temple of the Sagrada Família (1882; unfinished), a job he combined with his other commissions until 1914, when he concentrated exclusively on this one.
He was a member of the Cercle de Sant Lluc (Circle of Saint Luke) and the Catalanist Association of Scientific Excursions. He did not actively attach himself to any group and did not mix in the movement's intellectual world. Nevertheless, his work has become the most popular representative of the Modernista period.