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"The Most Ugly Thing": Ricardo Bofill's Renovation Turned a Concrete Factory into a Cloister

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A series of stone silos that made up the ramparts of an abandoned concrete factory, the structure was cold and impersonal, a meta-Brutalist building on the outskirts of Barcelona. Yet for architect Ricardo Bofill, the plant was perfect for an exercise he was attempting in the mid-'70s: transform "the most ugly thing" into something beautiful. The result, a stunning renovation some have compared to a castle or cathedral for its blend of monumentality and livability, serves as an object lesson in reimagining a space. "My father allowed everybody in the family to choose their favorite hideout within the tunnels and staircases and spaces and rehabilitate it," says Ricardo Bofill, Jr., his son and an architect in his own right, about the extended series of experiments that went into the extended renovation project. It's since become a legendary example of adaptive reuse.

Bofill picked up the dilapidated site in the town of Sant Just Desvern, Spain's largest cement factory, in 1973 before it was set to be shut down and moved. It was acquired with the intention of creating architectural offices, an exhibition space, apartments, guest rooms and a garden out of the crumbling buildings, a variety of spaces that, over time, would allow him to experiment with numerous forms, shapes and designs.

He spent two years demolishing 70 percent of the 5,000-square-meter (53, 819-square-foot) facility, which contained smokestacks, vast underground tunnels and even a furnace from the beginning of the 20th century. The exterior landscape was also reshaped with olive trees, cypress, and other plants.

Filled with examples of stunning living spaces, the renovated interior landscape included experimental and surrealist designs (a penchant already seen in his La Muralla Roja housing project from 1968). Bofill calls La Fabrica a "ruin that has been remade and restructured," appropriate for nearly any use. Much of the open plan living space contains hints of the structure's industrial past alongside great luxury, a Brutalist and romantic vision, he says. Luxury to Bofill isn't gold, but a lifestyle; it's easy to imagine the freedom that comes with living and working in your own creation.

In Residence Ep 14: "Ricardo Bofill" by Albert Moya - NOWNESS presents from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

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