You need look no further than Pablo Bofill family's office La Fabrica, located in a former cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona, to understand that out-of-the-box thinking sits at the foundations of El Taller Bofill's approach to architecture, design and creativity. Since 2009, Parisian-born Pablo has served as CEO for the multi-disciplinary studio that his architect father Ricardo Bofill Levi set up in the 60's and which remains one of the world's leading lights in innovative large scale urban design, of which La Fabrica is just one example. Resurrected and reimagined through a combination of calculated demolition, repurposing and the planting of surprising gardens and roof-top terraces, La Fabrica is an industrial beauty veering from brutalism to surrealism in style that is a wonder to behold.
The epic execution of the project is symptomatic of Bofill's meticulously rigid yet organic approach to design, also showcased in residential community Walden 7 – knick-named City in Space by Bofill – and developed during an adventure into the Algerian desert in the 1970´s with a team of sociologists, mathematicians and artists o a mission to reimagine community living. Set behind La Fabrica, Walden 7 remains an icon for Spanish architecture beloved by residents almost half a century on. It sure beats the majority of housing estates. Looking back on a heritage spanning almost 70 years, Ricardo Bofill's numbers are impressive: Born to a family of builders in 1939, he built his first house at 17, was the lead architect at El Taller by 23 and now counts 1000 projects in 50 countries under the company's collective belt. Furthermore, the tour de force of creative talent that has amassed around the Bofill's shows little sign of slowing down.
More than fifty years after its founding, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura remains at the forefront of the urban design and architectural professions. The third generation family business is currently led by Ricardo Bofill Levi, sons Ricardo E. Bofill and Pablo Bofill, and partners Peter Hodgkinson and Jean-Pierre Carniaux. RBTA applies its visionary humanism and cultural intelligence in settings across the world. Centralized in a repurposed former cement factory “La Fábrica” on the outskirts of Barcelona, RBTA consists of a diverse, driven, and cohesive team of talent.
What was your childhood like growing up within your father’s world?
I was born in Paris and grew up there, raised by an architect father and artist mother. Creativity was at the heart of my upbringing, and a view towards the future—rather than a detailed analysis of the past—constantly placed new projects at the heart of our discussions.
Did you always want to be an architect?
I’m not an architect. My architectural and artistic upbringing, and my background in film and business, pushed me to join the Taller’s team as a producer at age 30. My job is to compose the teams, organize the work of groups assigned to each project, and guide the pace of production.
What are they key lessons you learnt from him?
I learnt that creativity isn’t innate but the result of perseverance, rigor, curiosity, and contemplation.
What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
The Mohammed VI University project in Ben Guerir was a unique experience. We had to design a project based on the reality of what was possible with local construction. We wanted to work in line with Moroccan traditions and architecture when designing the different spaces of the university.
Most of the people living in this region of Morocco are miners and farmers. Modern construction techniques are barely undeveloped, and there aren’t many builders. We had to take this into account, and so the challenge was to produce the place we’d imagined while incorporating these technical constraints in the process of design and construction. On the other hand, there was immediate enthusiasm for what the university project meant symbolically. This spot is destined to become a major education hub for Morocco, but also for the whole of the African continent. It’s promoting access to higher education among populations that too often have to give up on the idea, because the cost is too high.
How do you stay consistently on the curve of innovation as industry leaders for over 50 years?
The renewal of our vocabulary in the production of architecture is due, first of all, to a constant self-critique of finished work. These regular appraisals have allowed us to project our architecture towards the future, based on a vocabulary with multiple identities. For the past fifty years, the Taller’s team has included a number of architects that’s small enough to bring these minds together, but large enough that the breadth of work allows us to produce internationally. The diversity of the Taller’s proposals over this long period undoubtedly emanates from the combination of different personalities expressing themselves together.
What is it like to work in la Fabrica and what is the work culture like?
La Fabrica is a space that’s conducive to creation and the gathering of individuals and ideas. The space is animated by diverse cultures, but it helps develop a sense of belonging —to a group, or to a work team united around projects with different typologies. Locating the Taller’s architecture within the exclusive hub of La Fabrica definitely helps to strengthen the team and enrich its proposals. This autonomy gained through experience has allowed us to develop our own design dynamic.
How has RBTA played a part in Barcelona’s urban evolution?
Barcelona is the city that accommodates every single period of the Taller’s architectural design. Over the past fifty years, Barcelona has been transformed. Several prominent events have contributed to its rise, and the Taller has taken part in its transformation at each of these moments — from its first brick housing projects to the construction of the airport. For a long time, Barcelona appeared to be hemmed in by the mountains to the north and west. The major urban project developed over the past 30 years has been to reorient the city towards the sea. The Taller has also distinguished itself in the conversion of industrial sites — a unique part of Barcelona’s heritage — into viable spaces connected to the urban fabric.
What do you see as the principal challenges for the urban living and how do you see these being solved?
Today still, the challenge for the city and for city planners is first of all to house people in a decent fashion, by putting humans back at the heart of the city and the urbanity it’s supposed to harbor. Absorbing technological innovation in order to produce as freely as possible and adapting to the living conditions of wherever the design is taking place are all elements to be taken into account when undertaking architecture today.
If you could innovate in one area of Barcelona’s design, where and what would it be?
Barcelona abandoned its artisanal production a long time ago, to construct in a standardized manner. The challenge today is to work with all the different trades in order to formulate a more innovative architecture, but one that keeps its local identity. Poble Nou is perhaps the neighborhood undergoing the most interesting changes today. Its industrial fabric and urban transformation will be a fascinating challenge over the next few years.
How should urban spaces evolve?
A city must develop while giving individuals the sense of being free to choose their place of residence. It has to encourage the movement of people, and give them the chance to develop social ties and cultivate themselves.
What do you love about architecture and urban planning?
Architecture is a discipline that’s deeply linked to the social sciences. It clearly entails an understanding of the social customs and cultures of the places where we build. Starting from the idea of individuality to finally propose spaces that surpass the human scale is a constant and fascinating baseline. And I appreciate the fact that the architecture of cities offers an essential framework for understanding and reconstituting the history of a place.
Where do you live in Barcelona?
In Eixample, a neighborhood created in the 19th century, when Cerdà was planning the urban grid. It’s a central neighborhood, a middle ground between Barcelona’s different villages.
What do you love about the city?
In Barcelona, state power and large companies have a weak presence. This allows people to develop spontaneously, to trace their own creative path without feeling like they’re on display.
What is it about the city’s architectural and design legacy that most inspires you?
Barcelona is a city where all the houses are different. The streets are regularly repeated according to Cerdà’s layout, but the buildings all change from one to another—like a house by Gaudí, where each door, each detail is unique.
What do you recommend for people to do who want to get an interesting insight into the city’s architecture?
To discover the city I’d recommend walking around and allowing yourself to get lost.