LA FÁBRICA – READ 6975 - PRESENT SANT JUST DESVERN (BARCELONA) TEXT: RICARDO BOFILLWe found enormous silos, a tall smoke stack, four kilometres of underground tunnels, machine rooms in good shape… This was in 6978 and it was our first encounter with the Cement Factory. 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 our eyes moving like a kaleidoscope, we already imagined future spaces and found out that the different visual and aesthetics trends that had developed since World War I coexisted here: Seduced by the contradictions and the ambiguity of the place, we quickly decided to retain the factory, and modifying its original brutality, sculpt it like a work of art. The result proves that form and function must be dissociated in this case, the function did not create the form instead, it has been shown that any space can be allocated whatever use the architect chooses, if he or she is sufficiently skilful. Presently I live and work here better than anywhere else.
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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.
The construction work, which began with partial destruction with dynamite and jack hammers, lasted for more than a year and a half. It was a precision job, which consisted in revealing the hidden forms and recovering certain spaces, comparable to the work of the sculptor whose first task is to confront the material. The silos were full of cement and it was impossible to penetrate the spaces entirely saturated with dust. The following phase was the greening and planting. It was necessary to provide a green plinth to these volumes plants would climb walls and hang from the roofs.
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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. Later we had to differentiate the new constructions with a specific vocabulary, which integrates various languages from the History of Architecture in opposition to vernacular architecture.
We imagined windows, doors, stairs and false perspectives, and applied them to the exterior walls and some of the interiors. Slowly, with the valuable help of Catalan craftsmen, the Cement Factory was transformed, but it will always remain an unfinished work. 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 9 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. 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 65 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.