An Iconic Estate in Spain Inspired by a Utopian Sci-Fi Novel

An Iconic Estate in Spain Inspired by a Utopian Sci-Fi Novel

By gestalten
Step inside the wonderful world of Barcelona’s Walden 7.

Ricardo Bofill’s avant-garde approach has been influenced by everything from baroque to Islamic architecture during his five-decade-spanning career. A prolific Spanish architect, he continues to push boundaries with his philosophies on large-scale design, leading what’s now a three-generation family business at his Taller de Arquitectura, which is based in a converted cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona.

Walden 7 features five interior courtyards and 446 residences.

One of his most pioneering projects, Walden 7 was built in 1975 and aimed to tackle the problems of modern city living, such as a perceived lack of both community and privacy. A stone’s throw from his firm’s headquarters in Sant Just Desvern, the imposing 14-story structure consists of 18 towers and five courtyards arranged in a modular but unsystematic fashion—an architectural solution conceived to counteract the uniformity of conventional apartment blocks.

Walden 7's unsystematic layout offers an alternative to conventional apartment blocks.

The staggered, geometric configuration of the 400-plus apartments, combined with a complex labyrinth of internal bridges and balconies, creates a proliferation of unexpected views and intimate spaces. A bold, Moorish-inspired color palette was implemented to enhance the building’s striking silhouette, with a rich terracotta exterior and an interior resplendent in azure blue.

A dynamic walkway bridges a gap above terraced planters.

The apartments themselves are based around the idea of a modular "cell," which normally comes with a kitchenette, a toilet, bath, table, and an assortment of cupboards. Units are designed to be connected together, allowing for a diverse range of housing typologies. The smallest apartments, measuring 30 m. (323 ft.), are made up of a single cell. The largest combine up to four cells in a duplex formation and can be joined or divided as changing lifestyles or family needs require. Whatever the configuration, most of the apartments benefit from a view of both an exterior and interior courtyard.

Walden 7 is a vertical labyrinth of connected courtyards, terraces, and apartments.

An ambitious social housing experiment, the idea for Walden 7 came to Bofill in the early 1970s, when he pooled the various talents of a team of sociologists, philosophers, and mathematicians in a bid to design the housing estate of the future. The name came from the 1940s science fiction novel Walden Two, which explores utopian ideals for communal living. Hence, the roof of the building—rumored to have been used as a venue for extravagant parties back in the 1970s—features two swimming pools for residents, while extensive public gardens surround the base. While Bofill’s vision for Walden 7 hasn’t always panned out as planned over the years, the building does retain a strong sense of community spirit. Amenities and activities include a library in the lobby and art classes for children, while a residents committee—and a strong sense of shared pride—ensure the ongoing upkeep of this unconventional building and its surrounds.

Text by Tessa Pearson, from Petite Places, Copyright Gestalten 2018

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