Monday, April 12, 1999

Taller de Arquitectura

Taller de Arquitectura in Barcelona Spain by Ricardo Bofill, 1975

Ricardo Bofill arrived on the world architecture scene when the Postmodern movement gained popularity, both by the general public and architects. His early structures, mainly large residential complexes, consisted of classical elements in overscaled facade compositions. These buildings received mixed criticism, though were popular enough that Bofill became a well-known name in the world of architecture. Built in the mid-1970's, his residence and architectural workshop, the Taller de Arquitectura, parallel his earlier designs but is more successful compositionally and spatially, creating an intimate environment not readily found in his multi-residential buildings.

The Catalan architect purchased a decrepit cement factory and spent two years remodeling it. Comprised of silos, underground passages, and large machine rooms, the structures were stripped of tons of cement to reach its final form. Landscaping was the final project carried out, made up mainly of grass areas, delimited by groups of eucalyptus, palm, olive, plum, and mimosa trees. The mixture of grass, trees, climbing plants, and large cylindrical concrete forms gives the building a quality of a romantic ruin.

The most impressive aspect of the design, though is the lack of reliance upon classical elements, as is typical in Bofill's work, to achieve a desired effect. The arched windows and doors (the only elements that evoke old Roman architecture) are subtle in their size and color, appearing to be part of the existing silos. It is a compliment to Bofill to say that it is difficult to determine which parts of the complex are old or new.

Obviously the interior is not the same in this respect. Clean lines and blank, colored walls predominate throughout the workshop spaces. And although these spaces contrast with the exterior, the curves formed by the building's previous use are always present. As can be seen in the last picture, more direct references to the past use are embedded in the design, with beautiful spaces born from the adaptive reuse. The complex also contains a large space, called the "Cathedral", where concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events associated with the architect's professional activity take place.

In the architect's opinion, close contact with the exterior would foster an atmosphere between ruin and cloister, creating for his studio a setting conducive to reflection. The apparent success of this goal owes as much to Bofill's subdued design as to the cement factory. It is in this direct junction between present and past that the architect does not look at history to borrow, but to find an appropriate solution to the existing forms and context.

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