Alexandra Kometovna

Spanish castle magic. At home with architect Ricardo Bofill

Alexandra Kometovna
Spanish castle magic. At home with architect Ricardo Bofill

written by JACQUELINE MIRÓ
photos courtesy of RICARDO BOFILL

La Fábrica, carved from the meticulously demolished remains of a decommissioned cement plant outside Barcelona, feels at once modern and ancient.

La Fábrica, carved from the meticulously demolished remains of a decommissioned cement plant outside Barcelona, feels at once modern and ancient.

La Fábrica, the terrestrial home and headquarters of Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, could easily pass for the feudal estate of a galactic senator from a distant star system. In reality, the colossal thirty thousand square foot compound can be found on the outskirts of Barcelona, in the town of Sant Just Desvern, where it rises up from the industrial landscape like a utopian fortress.

“The bourgeois way of living, with a traditional house — I’ve never really liked it. This is my place, it’s my reference. It is here where I know how to live, where I know how to work.”

The original structure, built at the turn of the century, was once Spain’s oldest cement factory, but by the time Bofill purchased the site in 1973, the sprawling complex had fallen into ruin. Over the course of several years, Bofill carved a mixed-use fantasia out of the abandoned facility’s remains, which today houses both his private living quarters and his firm, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, one of the most prolific design, engineering, and city-planning institutions in the world.

Inside the thirty thousand square foot structure, converted machine rooms and former silos house Bofill’s private living quarters and the offices of his architecture firm.

Inside the thirty thousand square foot structure, converted machine rooms and former silos house Bofill’s private living quarters and the offices of his architecture firm.

What once consisted of thirty silos, labyrinthine subterranean galleries, and dozens of giant machine rooms was methodically transformed into a space Bofill describes as simultaneously brutalist and romantic. Some surrealist elements — stairs that lead nowhere, huge concrete pylons that support nothing — were kept in place, too. But much of the existing building was subtracted through complicated demolition, and Bofill took a minimalist approach to the materials he added back, employing a palette of cement, glass, wood, and tile. Over time, the façade has been enveloped in a curtain of green foliage. In the lush surrounding gardens, ivy, eucalyptus trees, and tropical palms appear to be plotting a future takeover.

Carefully planted flora surrounds the once blighted industrial complex, lending it the appearance of a ruin rising from the landscape.

Carefully planted flora surrounds the once blighted industrial complex, lending it the appearance of a ruin rising from the landscape.

Surreal elements from the original structure, including stairs that lead to nowhere, were deliberately left intact.

Surreal elements from the original structure, including stairs that lead to nowhere, were deliberately left intact.

Eight silos remain, repurposed into offices, a residence, wood-working and model-making shops, archives, a library, a projection room, and a gigantic central space known as the Cathedral. Be-neath the green roofs and terraces, eight bedrooms and twelve bathrooms are connected through an intricate series of passage-ways, allowing for inhabitants to move freely and use spaces independently, without interruption.

“The bourgeois way of living, with a traditional house — I’ve never really liked it,” says Bofill. “This is my place, it’s my reference. It is here where I know how to live, where I know how to work.”