A factory transformed into a luminous library


The office of Catalan architects Ricard Mercadé and Aurora Fernández has designed the Montserrat Abelló public library in Barcelona’s Les Corts district recovering an old factory to incorporate a new coexistence space for the city.

The library dedicated to the poetess Montserrat Abelló is an ensemble of three buildings that totals 4000 square meters in which the large nave of the former Benet Campabadal textile factory built in 1924 stands out. The project rehabilitates this industrial heritage building by creating a double-height light atrium maintaining the volume of the nave and the unique sawteeth structure and skylights of its roof.

In addition to the large open spaces for reading and study, the new library provides more informal ones with sofas, armchairs and designer chairs designed to facilitate the relationship and exchange among users.

The Montserrat Abelló library promotes the maker culture and has a digital manufacturing laboratory. The building has the BREEAM energy rating of sustainability and energy efficiency and it is described as the most sustainable public building in Barcelona.

There are though several aspects of this particular project that motivate me as a photographer and that continue to surprise me after so many years of profession: they are mainly two, the first of them photographing the fabulous industrial heritage of my city.

I have photographed many heritage buildings but very few with an industrial past like that of this factory, even less the space in which the workers worked. Usually I have always photographed the facades of these buildings but almost never their interiors: that's why, when Ricard and Aurora asked me as part of their assignment to photograph the factory's huge nave completely empty –the black and white pictures you can see here– I started to feel that I could understand the historical dimension of the building and its transformation project.

When I also learned that some of my photographs of the nave bathed only by the light of its skylights were similar to some that a profession colleague –whose name I would love to know but unfortunately I ignore– shot in 1929, I discovered a connection with the past that was especially emotional.

The second quality that most caught my attention in this building as soon as I entered it was the beautiful northern light that illuminates it completely and that multiplies bouncing everywhere on all its white walls. A clean and unique light that makes the space monumental and cozy at the same time as in a temple, such as photographing a secular cathedral of knowledge.

But perhaps the same evidence of admitting that I am still surprised by how light creates space is for me the truly important feature of photographing this library. Light is the impulse that leads the look of a photographer at the world on his doorstep, the raw material that builds the frame and the one that gives meaning to creation in photography.

Light is the only one that reveals the essence of a photographed space, it is the force that determines the point of view of a photograph and the one that gives way to interpret it in all its depth.

If you are an architectural photographer like me, being able to feel the fascination of seeing light as pure creative energy in a space as unique as a transformed library is really a wonderful experience.


David Cardelús