La Fábrica By Ricardo Bofill
This cement factory, dating from the first period of the industrialization of Catalonia, was not built at once or as a whole but was a series of additions as the various chains of production became necessary. The formal result was given, then, by a series of stratified elements, a process which is reminiscent of vernacular architecture, but applied to industry. Keeping their eyes moving like a kaleidoscope, Ricardo Bofill and his team already imagined future spaces and found out that the different visual and aesthetics trends that had developed since World War I coexisted here:
- Surrealism in paradoxical stairs that lead to nowhere; the absurdity of certain elements hanging over voids; huge but useless spaces of weird proportions, but magical because of their tension and disproportion.
- Abstraction in the pure volumes, which revealed themselves at times broken and raw.
- Brutalism in the abrupt treatment and sculptural qualities of the materials.
Seduced by the contradictions and the ambiguity of the place, Ricardo Bofill quickly decided to retain the factory, and modifying its original brutality, sculpt it like a work of art. The construction work, which began with partial destruction with dynamite and jack hammers, lasted for more than a year and a half. The last phase was the annulment of functionalism: we had to give the factory new structures and different uses, invent a new program. Various spaces became visible: The Cathedral, the gardens, the silos.
As part of the creative renewal and adaptative reuse of the cement plant, the factory hall was transformed into a conference and exhibition room, generous in size with floor to ceiling heights of 10 meters. With slightly oxidized surfaces, the raw concrete walls preserve the industrial aesthetics and spatial quality, the memory of the structure’s former use. The minimal architecture intervention in La Catedral is aesthetically striking and visually strong, with very few pieces designed by Taller Design: a wood and steel conference table, black leather sofa, chairs and armchairs, a steel and glass coffee table and a smaller meeting table under the huge hoppers.
Cosmopolitan by definition, Ricardo Bofill returns always to the factory, that old industrial building that he never ceases to renew for the past forty years, enlarging and embellishing its spaces as writing the history of his life, a biography in constant evolution. “The factory is a magic place which strange atmosphere is difficult to be perceived by a profane eye. I like the life to be perfectly programmed here, ritualised, in total contrast with my turbulent nomad life” In the upper part of the factory Ricardo Bofill transformed a huge volume of brute cement into the main living room. It is a perfect cube with a sequence of arc windows whose regular rhythm evokes the metaphysical perspectives of De Chirico. “Domestic, monumental, brutalist and conceptual”, that’s how Ricardo Bofill defines this room of enormous dimensions. The kitchen-dining room located in the ground floor is the meeting point for the family. In the middle of the room, a white marble rectangular table supported on ironwork legs surrounded with Thonet chairs, seat and backrest with wickerwork. Two-sided fireplaces designed by the architect Oscar Tusquets, add warmth, charm, and ambience to the room. With traditional Moroccan wall finish, the “pink” room on the middle floor of the house provides a smaller and more private living area. Designed by the studio, the generous rectangular dining table was made of one single piece of Alicante red marble. Same material was used for the coffee table in front of the black leather sofa. The chairs and stools are re-editions of Antonio Gaudi’s designs. A large fireplace dominates the room.
The team’s studio is located in the factory silos over four floors connected by a spiral staircase. Reflecting the company’s culture, the highly functional floor layout encourages team work and provides a perfect environment for individual concentration and creativity. Ricardo Bofill’s office on the first floor is a minimalist space with 4 meters ceiling height and pristine white walls and carpet. Furnished with RBTA designs, except for the vintage wicker Thonet chairs, the workspace is a bright and spacious open floor plan flooded with natural light and a view looking into the gardens. The underground galleries contain the model workshop and the archive rooms. The doors, windows and decorative elements are clear references to a cultured, historical architecture, in contrast to what might be described as the industrial vernacular of the original factory.
Once the spaces had been defined, cleaned of cement, it was necessary to provide a green plinth to the remaining volumes; plants would climb walls and hang from the roofs.The site, largely covered with grass, is bordered by groups of eucalyptus, palms, olive and prune tree, mimosas, and climbing plants that wrap the exposed concrete walls, giving the building this mysterious aspect of romantic ruin that makes it unique and unrepeatable.
“Presently I live and work here better than anywhere else. It is for me the only place where I can concentrate and associate ideas in the most abstract manner. I have the impression of living in a precinct, in a closed universe which protects me from the outside and everyday life. The Cement Factory is a place of work par excellence. Life goes on here in a continuous sequence, with very little difference between work and leisure. I have the impression of living in the same environment that propelled the Industrial Revolution in Catalonia.” - Ricardo Bofill
Source: Ricardo Bofill