This ‘factory’ in Barcelona, is a re-modelled industrial unit of cathedral proportions. Designed by Ricardo Bofill, it is today home to the architect, as well as the inspirations of the creative powerhouse, Taller de Arquitectura.
There are contrasting phenomena at play in this building, a delectable mix of the fine and the rough-edged that alternately amazes and intimidates. Within the august spaces here, there are immense possibilities of creative madness.
Spanish post-modernist architecture mainstay, Ricardo Bofill, took up this obsolete cement factory building in Sant Just Desvern in 1973 as the ultimate project of experimentation and re-imagination.
After 2 years of re-modelling, it became the home, the office and the general creative abode of what is today the Bofill-led Taller de Arquitectura.
This cement factory would look just like any from its ilk, but for the spectacular refurbishments instigated by Bofill. No industrial unit could have possibly factored in a re-birth of this scale and imagination!
Its 8 remaining silos, of the original 30, have been turned into offices, a library, a laboratory for models, a projections room, and the ‘Cathedral’, which is a space for exhibitions and concerts, and all the creative whims of the team.
It will help to expect absolutely nothing de rigueur here; every corner is awe-inspiringly larger than life. The exterior has all the grimness and no-nonsense quality of cement, but the imposing, vines-crept high walls conjure up medieval times more than the industrial revolution. Thick patches of bushes and trees around make the building look enigmatic and almost impermeable, setting the stage for the contrasting visual surprise of the interiors.
Now, the interiors do not sport a grand sweep of one idea. Instead they are split into highly-individualised sections, colour-coded and texture-determined by deft hands. So, one can either look at these as wholesome blocks, or pick specific props and marvel at the genius behind it all.
So there are the sheer pristine white curtains, cascading down like fresh rain-fed waterfalls in the living room. This one detailing is striking as it defines so well the tone of the rooms – understated elegance.
The couches and the stairwell in this part are milky white too, in blinding contrast to the coarse walls. Tufts of light enter through the square and arched windows, while carefully placed plants offer a refreshing break in hue.
It is remarkable how the mundane aspects of the old factory have been re-moulded to look like the refinements of a palatial home.
The concrete arches now look like passages of the gods, embellished with deep green vines, warm yellow lights and gleaming marble. On the roof, they look like installations of a pagan yore, probably built to decode cosmic secrets.
The meeting area (‘room’ could be an understatement) on the ground floor is also the main dining space. It is populated with large tables, many varnished wood and wickerwork chairs, couches and still has enough floor space for everyone in the team to dance around in the midst of ideation.
The aura of this space is almost completely wooden, giving it a cavernous personality. Adding to the jamboree is the multitude of shapes around, from the ceiling with its odd protrusions, to the dainty arches that form the windows, to the two chimneys designed by architect Oscar Tusquets.
In contradiction to the largesse of space in the discussion rooms, the Bofill office is more contemplative, with the walls mostly bare and the tenor of the furniture simple but still elegant.
The re-modelling process scooped out the interiors and filled them with the slickness of modern interior design props, while keeping the functional exteriors intact as a time-tested buffer. This outward to inward shift in textural language is the fulcrum of the revolutionary aura of this project.
‘The Factory’ is like a living movie – it draws open its grand curtains to reveal wondrous spaces to awe-struck viewers. Envisioned by Bofill, and re-worked every year, this complex mixes the hard-edged utilitarian aesthetics of the early 20th century with today’s fashion-forwardness.
“I like the life to be perfectly programmed here; ritualised, in total contrast with my turbulent nomad life,” adds the architect. The massiveness of the building would have seemed beyond everyday use to some eyes, but then they would have missed an essential point – that some ideas need lots of room to breathe and grow. Whenever the Taller de Arquitectura team searches for inspiration, it can literally just look upwards, and find it in the magic that envelopes them.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy The Architect