Concrete Favourite: La fábrica

Architects turn cement factory into unique work + living space

In 1973, Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill and his team encountered a closed cement factory that operated during the first periods of industrialization in Catalonia. Described with “enormous silos, a tall smokestack, four kilometres of underground tunnels, machine rooms in good shape”, Bofill has been on a continual process of renewing La fábrica for over 45 years, becoming a biography of both the factory’s evolution and Ricardo Bofill’s life.

The structure itself was built in a series of additions as the various necessities of production arose. Bofill’s initial attraction sparked from its WWI-era surrealism: paradoxical stairs led nowhere, absurdity placement of elements hanging over voids, disproportionately large unused spaces, brutalism in the abrupt treatment and sculptural qualities of the materials. 

The first phases of demolition revealed hidden forms and recovered spaces saturated with remnants of cement. Greening and planting followed with plants climb walls and hang from roofs transformed volumes. Groups of eucalyptus, palms, olive and prune tree, mimosas, and climbing plants wrap the walls, giving the building aspects of romance and mystery. Lastly, a new program was put in and slowly, with the help of Catalan craftsmen, the spaces became visible on exteriors. Oxidized surfaces and raw concrete walls remind of industrial histories and aesthetics.

Bofill explains that “life goes on here in a continuous sequence, with very little difference between work and leisure.” The studio team works in the factory silos which has a highly functional open floor plan to encourage teamwork while provides a perfect environment for individual concentration and creativity. Underground galleries contain the model workshop and archive rooms. The factory hall was transformed into a conference and exhibition room with floor to ceiling heights of 10 meters. The upper part of the factory transformed a huge volume of brute cement into the main living room. At once “domestic, monumental, brutalist and conceptual”, La fábrica proves the dissociation between form and function; that any space can be allocated whatever use the architect chooses - in this case from an industrial vernacular to a historical architecture. Read the about the project on Ricardobofill.com .

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