From chocolate factory to abode: Anna and Eugeni Bach restore 19th century structure

The architects transform a former chocolate factory in the Spanish town of La Bisbal into a studio and housing space using a preservative approach for the diaphanous space.

by Anmol Ahuja Published on : Oct 27, 2020

Located in the small, quaint town of La Bisbal in Catalonia, Spain, towards its urban centre and in a town block dating to the late 19th century, the curiously named project sees architects Anna and Eugeni Bach adaptively reusing an old warehouse for a family’s residence and studio space. The old warehouse, a former chocolate factory, is an oasis of a building within the dense town fabric, with a curious architectural typology and a host of features and motifs worth preserving, proving to be a populated yet freshly illustrative canvas for the architects.

  • The three floors of the building have three different ceilings: Ground floor comprises Catalan vaults | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    The three floors of the building have three different ceilings: Ground floor ceiling comprises Catalan vaults Image: Eugeni Bach
  • First floor ceiling, view through bedroom | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    First floor ceiling, view through bedroom Image: Eugeni Bach
  • Second floor ceiling, view through kitchen | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Second floor ceiling, view through kitchen Image: Eugeni Bach
  • Building section showcasing the three different ceilings preserved in the building | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Building section showcasing the three different ceilings preserved in the building Image: Eugeni Bach

Indubitably, the most interesting feature of this exquisite 19th century building is its three floor structure, with each floor made using a different technique. The ground floor is constructed of metal beams supporting a beautiful Catalan vault lined with terracotta tiles. The first floor is constructed of metal beams supporting an elaborate transversely laid wooden framework. The roof is made of a thin brick masonry slab supported by parallel running timber logs, and uses a ceramic tile finish on the terrace. All of the materials mentioned have been used in their austere form with minimal finishing as much possible, while an elaborate stone façade completes the building’s rustic, robust look.

  • The original staircase preserved in the building | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    The original staircase preserved in the building Image: Eugeni Bach
  • A new external wall mounted staircase added to the building | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    A new external wall mounted staircase added to the building Image: Eugeni Bach

An interesting aspect of the adaptive reuse of this establishment is the relative difference in the spatial programming of the building, before and after, and the balance the architects strive to strike between the two, in an effort to maximise the utility of the preserved space for its new inhabitants. Being an industrial space, the erstwhile structure had a nearly entirely open floor layout to allow for flexibility in usage. To be now well suited to the new residential programme of the building, the division of spaces had to be comparatively smaller, while preserving the character of the space that makes the building so special. This is in addition to the preservation of several elements, especially the three ceilings, for a family that the architects state was tastefully conscious and mindful of the character of the original building, an idea also synchronous with AE&B’s body of work.

  • Ground floor plan | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects
  • Second floor plan | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Second floor plan Image: Courtesy of Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects
  • Longitudinal section through the building | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Longitudinal section through the building Image: Courtesy of Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects
  • Transverse section through the building | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Transverse section through the building Image: Courtesy of Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects

In consonance with this scheme, Anna and Eugeni Bach preserved and restored the old staircase, evidently constructed in concrete with a timber balustrade and terracotta tiled soffit, while a new staircase has been introduced on the opposite side of the building. This not only allows for a spatial break for the usage of common spaces and rooms, but also facilitates different members of the family enjoying different spaces in the house with a reasonable degree of autonomy and privacy. The natural light flushed interiors have also been retrofitted with a bare, minimal furniture arrangement that looks modernistic in materiality and form, but finds its harmony in the slight contrast. According to the architects, this division of spaces so proposed “allows for the enjoyment of the original diaphanous spaces, while introducing small modifications and solutions that grant sight of the three ceilings, despite the new space distribution that requires smaller spaces”.

  • The pool and the ground floor lounge | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    The pool and the ground floor lounge Image: Eugeni Bach
  • Kitchen on the ground floor (interior) showcasing minimal furniture and appliance arrangement | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Kitchen on the ground floor (interior) showcasing minimal furniture and appliance arrangement Image: Eugeni Bach
  • Shading assembly on the first-floor terrace | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Shading assembly on the first-floor terrace Image: Eugeni Bach
  • Play of sunlight with the shaders forms interesting patterns on the ground | Dirk and the Chocolate Factory | Anna and Eugeni Bach Architects | STIRworld
    Play of sunlight with the shaders forms interesting patterns on the ground Image: Eugeni Bach

The project location is also graced with the Mediterranean climate of the Ampurdà region that favours the extensive use of outdoor spaces for recreation. Thus, the outdoor spaces in this building too are adapted to the new use with a pool in the centre of the patio, surrounded by the ground floor lounge, and the new porch, kitchen and dining spaces inside seamlessly merged with the outside spaces. The shaded terrace on the first floor overlooks this arrangement and is connected to the ground via an exterior wall mounted concrete staircase to allow “for the flexibility found in the interior to be echoed in the use of the outdoor spaces”. A distinctly visible standout is the pastel green paint that has been applied primarily to the metal work in the building, both old and new, including the structural steel for the shaders, slabs, door/window frames, stair rails, and even a distinct streetlamp hovering over the entrance to the building, attempting to highlight the interventional elements in this pleasing-to-the-eye alliance. 

Project Details

Name: Dirk and the Chocolate Factory
Location: La Bisbal d’Empordà, Girona, Spain
Architects: Anna & Eugeni Bach
Collaborators: Charline Boks, Project Architect
Built surface: 550 sq.m.
Constructor: Oak 2000 SL

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