In the mid-1970s, architect Ricardo Bofill transformed the abandoned Sansón Cement Factory, which is five miles outside Barcelona in the village of Sant Just Desvern, into his home and the headquarters for his firm Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura.
"I found enormous silos, a tall smokestack, four kilometers of underground tunnels, and machine rooms in good shape," he says. "I already imagined future spaces and noticed that the different aesthetic and plastic tendencies that had developed since World War I were present in this factory."
The cement factory was built in 1921 during the city’s industrialization period; over the years, the building expanded as cement production increased.
The 53,820-square-foot building provided plenty of possibility for new, exciting spaces along with unusual barriers for Bofill to overcome. There were staircases leading nowhere, and the silos were filled with cement.
"It was a precision job, which consisted in revealing the hidden forms and recovering certain spaces, comparable to the work of the sculptor whose first task is to confront the material," says Bofill. "Seduced by the contradictions and the ambiguity of the place, I decided to retain the factory and, modifying its original brutality, sculpt it like a work of art."
I decided to retain the factory and, modifying its original brutality, sculpt it like a work of art.
The renovation lasted three years, beginning with demolition using jackhammers and dynamite. During the tear-down, distinct spaces came into view: the cathedral, the garden, the silos.
The large cathedral is used for meetings, displaying projects, and hosting cultural events like concerts and lectures. The four floors in the silos are home to the firm’s offices, connected by a spiral staircase.
Bofill’s home occupies 5,382 square feet of the factory with towering ceilings and oversized windows that welcome in an abundance of natural light.
"It is for me the only place where I can concentrate, associate ideas in the most abstract manner, and finally, create projects, images and new spaces, and constitute a specific vocabulary for my architecture," says Bofill. "Life goes on here with very little difference between work and leisure."
Outside, the garden is a lush oasis of Mediterranean plantings of cypress, olive, and eucalyptus trees. Vines climb the concrete walls, and verdant grass extends over the grounds.
"Slowly, with the valuable help of Catalan craftsmen, the cement factory was transformed, but it will always remain as an unfinished work," he says.
Architect: Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura
Builder/general contractor: Emilio Bofill Benessat
Structural engineer: Ricardo Bofill
Civil engineer: Ricardo Bofill
Landscape design: Ricardo Bofill
Lighting design: Ricardo Bofill
Interior design: Ricardo Bofill
Sound engineer: Ricardo Bofill
Cabinetry design: Ricardo Bofill