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Bought a cement factory, turned it into an enchanted palace

When architect Ricardo Bofill discovered an abandoned cement factory outside Barcelona, he was inspired to give the place a new life. After two years of work he turned 30 silos, 4,000 meters of underground galleries and a 105 meter smoke stack into his home and the offices of his Taller de Arquitectura (notable works include Les Halles and the Christian Dior headquarters in Paris, Shisheido building Tokyo, JP Morgan skyscraper Chicago and the Shangri-La Hotel Beijing).

The transformation of factory to home office was a process of destruction. Destroying 22 of the 30 silos, Bofill searched for hidden forms in the abandoned buildings. The process was “like a work of sculpture in concrete.”

Today, “La Fabrica” (The Factory) is a monument to adaptive reuse, a castle of Brutalist architecture, and enduring proof that Bofill could turn “the ugliest thing” into something beautiful. The silos, which once held concrete, now house architects and overnight guests. Underground passageways, now daylighted with huge skylights, connect a labyrinth of laboratories (including one for 3D modeling), archive space, and even an employee kitchen.

The most spectacular space is “La Catedral” (The Cathedral) earning its name with 10-meter-high ceilings and concrete relics from its industrial past. It’s now used for meetings, exhibitions, and concerts. Bofill’s own home sits above La Catedral with its own impressive, high-ceilinged space called “Sala Cúbica” (“cube-shaped room”).

The work is vivid proof of the idea that function can follow form. “Many people say that something has to look like what it does and it’s not necessary,” explains Jean-Pierre Carniaux, partner at Taller de Arquitectura for 4 decades. “You know instead of being full of gravel it’s full of architects.”

As part of a larger redevelopment of the old factory, Bofill also created Walden 7, social housing built as a “city in the air” with open-air walkways, or “streets”, connecting apartments built from 30 m2 modules.

La Fábrica was officially completed in 1975, but Bofill and his architects continue to tinker and the 76-year-old designer considers it an eternal work in progress.