An Architecture Photographer on Ricardo Bofill’s Social-Housing Masterpiece, Walden 7
Among architectural photographers, it’s become practically de rigueur to make a pilgrimage to Ricardo Bofill’s zigzag-staircased La Muralla Roja building in Calpe, Spain. A slightly less documented — but no less stunning — destination is Bofill’s social housing complex Walden 7, which was built outside Barcelona in the early 1970s next to the remains of a former cement factory (which in recent years was renovated to become Bofill’s home and studio). A 14-story cluster of 446 apartments, Walden 7 is grouped around five courtyards, and encircled by curved, terracotta balconies that give the building the appearance of having barnacles. Most of the apartments face both out towards the sea and into one of the courtyards; at many levels, a system of bridges and walkways allow residents an array of vertiginous vistas. We’d seen photos of the place, of course, but when we received these images — taken by trend consultant and travel blogger Pauline Chardin, whose series on Richard England we posted in 2016 — we had to share. Here’s what Pauline had to say:
“The gigantic complex was built by Ricardo Bofill’s Architectural Taller in 1975, on a plot west of Barcelona, which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere at the time, and is still rather suburban today. It was of course very unpopular at the time, despite (or because of) its visionary quality. I had seen pictures of it before, but none of them can prepare you for the physical shock of actually experiencing the building. This is an intense, highly sensory place. Scale is the first thing to stun you. It starts with the fortress-like silhouette, impossibly high and thin, that follows a complex network of lines stretching in every direction. Pretty soon you’re disoriented, stunned by the complexity of the inner structure. It’s like walking inside a box where all the pieces seem to move around you. Every corridor seems familiar, yet everything is different, you go up, you go down, you take a few turns and you’re as good as lost.
“On the way down, I exchange a couple of words with a resident. I’m strangely ecstatic, shaken by the place, and I ask her about how incredible it is to live in such an environment. She offers an embarrassed smile in return, “It’s ok, I guess.” This is one of the most incredible buildings I’ve seen in Barcelona, and one of the most impressive buildings I’ve visited.”
PHOTOS BY PAULINE CHARDIN