In 1973, the young architect Ricardo Bofill discovered an industrial complex from the beginning of the century on the outskirts of Barcelona. The place was somewhat derelict, but it had a potential that only the eyes of an architect could see. That barren and abandoned mass of concrete became, after two years of work, a totally different place. The silos were converted into office spaces, an archive, a library, a laboratory and one of the huge factory spaces was made into a so-called cathedral, a space for creation and exposition. That old factory, in addition to being the architect's own residence, is now also home to Bofill Studio of Architecture, a studio comprising an interdisciplinary team of social scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, engineers and architects. So, today we take a closer look at a place that invites creativity, but also contemplation, silence and reflection.
The origin of this amazing project is an old cement factory from the early stage of industrialisation in Barcelona, in Sant Just Devern, the hometown of the architect. It was the oldest cement factory in Spain, and had closed when the operations moved. The space was not consistent with a general plan, but was the result of a juxtaposition of different elements and volumes that had been added to each other in response to the evolution of the factory. The space was rough, abandoned and partially ruined, suggesting surreal scenery: stairs to nowhere, large pieces of iron hanging from nothing, immense gaps…
Luckily, one of the great skills of the architects is to see beyond what exists, to contemplate anything and see it transformed and completed. That's what happened to Ricardo Bofill the first time he visited the old cement factory. Tucked away in the dark, dirty and ugly surfaces was the possibility of something extremely beautiful.
In two years, the time it took to transform the factory, a major part of the old structure was demolished, leaving only 8 of the 30 silos that were originally there. Its more than 4 km of underground galleries, and huge engine rooms, gave way to forms that had remained hidden and were now recovered for the project.
The next challenge was to provide functions for these new places. The opposite of functionalism, which creates solutions for the functions that have already been established, here previously existing spaces are adapted to fit the decisive visions of the architect.
A site like this that so carefully considers interior spaces will, of course, also think of the outdoors. The idea was to create a nice garden, radically changing the landscape through which the architect had walked to find the old cement factory. Around the silos, eucalyptus, olive, cypress and palm trees were planted, and the vines were allowed to cover the walls. This is another way of suggesting an old, abandoned building, but with a wilder, more magical element, like a haunted castle hidden in the woods.
In the Cathedral, old cement mixers hang from the ceiling over tables, and the space, apparently so compact, opens outwardly through glass walls, connecting to the garden.
The Cathedral is the name given to the huge space that is dedicated to cultural events, exhibitions and shows. There are those who think it is a very pretentious term, but the reality is that here, as in the old Gothic cathedrals, the space overwhelms with its size and, with its aesthetics, creates an atmosphere halfway between the Post-modern and the Catalan Gothic.
The factory space is like a maze full of twists and turns, where everyone can have room develop their own activities independently. Here, luxury is in space. In this interior, the brutalist style mixes with the romantic aesthetic provided by the Gothic-inspired windows and long, white curtains.
Inside the factory, although books lay everywhere with plans and sketches filling the racks against the wall, the feeling is not cluttered but almost minimalist, especially in the choice of materials. The white, immaculate, pale staircase appears out of nowhere, and seems to be about to disappear into the concrete. The warm lights create an old, rustic, solemn atmosphere, like something from another era.
In Ricardo Bofill Factory, the aesthetic is pursued over the functional, for a beauty that startles, surprises and thrills. Proof of this is that these structures, stripped of their former purpose, are useless. But there they are—defying the sky, and reminding us of how beauty conquers the brutality of grey.