Located in the outskirts of Barcelona, the repurposed cement factory La Fábrica is home to the Taller de Arquitectura (RBTA) and the Bofill family. Here we develop our distinct vocabulary to interpret a changing world, nurturing the competence and cultural sensitivity of our multitalented team. From polluting industrial settlement to unmatched laboratory of ideas, La Fábrica represents the built manifesto of RBTA, its legacy and headquarters.
The first encounter of our founder Ricardo Bofill Levi with the cement factory took place in 1973. Driving to the western suburbs of Barcelona, the landscape in Sant Just Desvern featured blocks of concrete, enormous silos, chimneys exhaling smoke. Still active at the time, the 31,000-square-meter industrial complex was to be dismantled a month after that visit. For the architect, it was the perfect opportunity to satisfy his longing for space. Taking care of that decaying factory, he could give it a second life.
The human eye can capture objects and forms also beyond the centre of gaze. In a similar fashion, as he states, his peripheral vision and origins made Ricardo Bofill receptive towards distant civilizations and the fringes of Western capitals alike. The cement factory appeared as a relic, destined to disappear with its original purpose, as conceived during Catalonia’s early industrialization of the 1920s. Instead, the project made it a bridge between two worlds – the fading Fordist mode of production and the incoming post-material society.
In its current purposes, La Fábrica inherits and safeguards the creative force that shaped the modern periphery in Western nations. To this, we add the sensitivity to changing needs in society and cultures removed from the centre. For the architect, it is a privileged point of view. Looking through the concrete flesh of the vast complex, it was possible to look beyond the designated function of the cement factory, and unearth its new life under the name of La Fábrica.
Rejecting functionalism, unveiling beauty
The industrial settlement originally consisted of 30 monumental siloes, four kilometres spanning a web of underground tunnels, and various large rooms devoted to hosting machinery. After a process of careful selection of which parts to keep, dynamite and a jackhammer were used to mold the existing structure. The 8 remaining siloes were emptied of cement and debris. This initial phase of redevelopment took more than one year and a half to come to completion, but started revealing the beauty concealed inside the factory. The architect was the sculptor, and the factory his single block of marble.
Various forms and shapes became visible, paired with the most diverse stylistic components that first sparked curiosity in the building. The factory was a gem of mixed architectural trends from the past:
- Surrealism in stairs leading to nowhere and elements hanging over voids, as well as visually powerful spaces of weird proportions;
- Abstraction in the pure volumes, at times revealing themselves broken and raw;
- Brutalism in the crude, concrete materiality of the place.
The contradictions and the ambiguity of the complex inherently hinted at a rebirth. They were not dictating its purpose anymore. The process Ricardo Bofill embarked on was, chiefly, a theoretical rethinking of the relationship between space and function. The use may, indeed, fit the space. By rejecting the original functionalist approach of the structure as a cement factory, La Fábrica was now unravelling its allure. From an industrial settlement in decay, the skilful architect could carve a place where work and life fulfil themselves in a virtuous continuum, in an equal way.