Ricardo Bofill’s reconstructed Cement Factory is a poetic place that challenges conventional concepts of housing. It is a remarkable building for at least two reasons; it is both a masterful architectural solution for transforming an old cement factory into a beautiful residence, and an inspiring work studio.
As Bofill himself highlights, his factory is a place where he lives and works best, where living and working are not separated nor excluding one another. As a never ending work in progress, Bofill’s project represents his lifetime work, breathing and evolving as he himself changes and develops.
In 1973, Bofill bought the disused and abandoned factory dating from the turn of the 20th century. Set in Sen Just Desvern near Barcelona, Spain, it was built in the first industrialization period of Catalonia in series of additions. While talking for Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series of interviews Bofill said “I loved this place when I first discovered it because it was never planned or designed. Instead, it developed over many years, expanding and rebuilding every time new technology was introduced. It was an homage to industry. The factory reminded me of vernacular architecture”.
The formal result was quite in contrast to the Modernist motto – function didn’t follow nor create the form. The factory, partially in ruins, entailed contradictions and ambiguities that seduced Bofill from the beginning. As it was a huge site, with about 30 silos, underground tunnels, subterranean galleries, and large machine rooms, filled with concrete. The transformation process needed 4 different stages.
Firstly, they had to remove a lot of material and destroy some parts which took a year and a half. The idea was deconstruct and remodel parts of the structure in the first phase, to unveil the concealed forms and recover some hidden spaces. The second phase included cleaning the debris, gardening and planting as much greenery as possible; providing plants climbing the walls or hanging from roofs, a lot of palms, olive, eucalyptus, pine and cypress trees. After which the previous functionality of the spaces was adapted for different uses and new architectural concepts.
The factory slowly started to get its today shape to become today’s offices, archives, library and projection rooms, a model laboratory, Ricardo Bofill’s residency, and the gigantic ‘Cathedral’ (a conference and exhibition room with the height of 33 feet from floor to ceiling). The last big creative renewal included integrating different architectural routines creating a unique vocabulary of the building. In the interview for Belogolovsky, Bofill stated “My idea at the time was to recuperate some of the elements from historical Catalan architecture such as elongated arched windows from medieval times in Barcelona”. It took 45 years to bring the factory to it’s present condition.
The result is a huge, open and light filled series of spaces. With 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms, it is the residence of Ricardo Bofill and a studio for his firm Talle de Arquitectura, a multidisciplinary group of architects, sociologists, philosophers, writers, engineers, and planners founded in 1963. The most obvious aesthetic references include that of Brutalism, Abstraction, and Surrealism. Bofill likes to think of factory’s mysterious flair as distinctive as a romantic ruin.
The elements of Surrealism can be traced in some unexpected remains or absurd cement structures which create a slightly uncanny feeling – stairs leading nowhere, hanging elements, mighty blank spaces with no use. It is all rendered in pure abstract forms and the austere quality of the concrete. “It is very raw and clean, there is almost nothing decorative here. It is a world within itself” notes Bofill.
Bofill’s aesthetic doesn’t consider luxury in space, decoration or appearance. Instead, for him, luxury is a part of the lifestyle. The project of the Cement Factory is thus luxurious in its creation and the everyday routine it provides. In his mind, Bofill had a monastery as an inspiration for projecting a perfect place for contemplation and work, excluded from the outside world in its concept.
He loves the labyrinthine volumes, in which people can be lost or can’t find one another and thus have a freedom to live in the manner that suits them and indulge in their different moods. The useless structures are left for pure aesthetic composition; they are organized by mental and psychological activities rather than functions of a typical bourgeois household.
Having a highly sophisticated spatial sensibility and exuberant inclination towards aesthetic feelings, it’s no wonder Ricardo Boffil created this monolithic landmark which allows you to connect with it in a more spiritual way. Sculpted as a work of art, Ricardo Boffil’s Cement Factory is truly a magical place for living.