Walden 7, Visiting A Little Piece of Utopia

Walden 7 gives an appreciative nod to behavioural psychologist, social philosopher and Sci-Fi novelist B.F Skinner who dreamed of a utopian community in his 1948 book Walden Two

Walden 7 in Barcelona by architect Richard Bofill
We asked Helene Haugaard, whose Instagram site is a must-follow, about her recent visit to Richard Bofill’s famed 1975 residential apartment block in Sant Just Desvern close to Barcelona.

What drew you to Walden 7?

My boyfriend and I were planning a trip to Barcelona, and in preparation for any holiday we always do our research on two things: cheap eats and architecture. There are a few trips we’ve made primarily to please my love of brutalism (Emphasis here on my love, as boyfriend Michael is not as big a fan of the raw concrete! But a big shout out to him as he always comes along anyway, to share my enthusiasm:So when I was looking up any interesting post-war buildings in Barcelona, Walden 7 popped up as an option just outside of town. I took to Instagram to see more, and fell in love. It was like something out of a Terry Gilliam film, completely over the top and a great mix of futurism and nostalgia (the orange and turquoise colour palette is very 1970’s, it’s fantastic.

Your photos always capture something extra and your Walden 7 series reflects that, how do you approach taking a photograph? Do you carefully select views or do you take multiple shots and then choose the best?

Firstly, thank you for the compliment. I am very much a shoot-and-point type of person, I take a lot of pictures out of bus windows and the like. If I see something that interests me, I’ll take a picture and hope for the best.
With Walden 7 we visited as part of a guided tour, so we were taken around the building and got to photograph things from just about every angle. I ended up with about 200 shots. In general, I like to line up images that give the viewer an idea of scale and geometry – I am really drawn to structural architecture, that is, how things are built and constructed. So I try to frame a shot that gives the viewer a sense of the building, rather than focusing on, for instance, the people on a street or smaller details, I like things to be very straight, it really irritates me if a window or doorway doesn’t line up with the edge of my photograph. It’s one of the elements I take time over.
Walden 7 Barcelona residential estate by Richard Bofill
View of the Walden 7 Towers by spanish architect Richard Bofill

Your Instagram @helenhaugard has some beautiful and striking photographs, it looks like you favour posting in threes; how do you curate the site? What messages would you like visitors to receive?

Posting in threes can honestly be a bit of a hassle, but I feel obliged to keep to the structure I’ve created now. I like things to be well organized and just so, and I think that bleeds into the way I create my Instagram feed. I always look for a common theme when selecting the three images to post side-by-side; whether it’s tonal similarities, composition or subject matter. I like the flow and cohesion it brings.
I am terrible at posting consistently. Sometimes I don’t post for weeks, and other times (like after the visit to Walden 7) I end up posting about 20 pictures in a day of just one building. The feed is really a scrapbook of memories, but put together in a way that I hope is visually engaging for people who don’t know me or the stories behind the travels
If someone visits my feed and wants to keep scrolling, that is all I can hope for.
Inside Walden 7 by spanish architect Richard Bofill
Richard Bofill's Walden 7 internal tiling

What camera do you use?

I always use my phone to take pictures, right now that is an iPhone 7 Plus. Bearing in mind that a lot of what I photograph is unplanned, I like how handy it is to always have your camera in your pocket. Sometimes I regret not having better quality images, but then I remind myself that the format most of my pictures end up in, on Instagram, means I don’t need to think about pixels or anything fancy – I just photograph what I see and hope others can find the everyday beauty in that.
Utopian inspired Walden 7 by Richard Bofill

One of the main ideas in Walden 2, the book that is the kernel of the concept of Walden 7, is that the environment can influence and change behaviour.  Do you think Walden 7 has a sense of community? Do you think the design affects the behaviour of its residents and visitors?

The architecture of Walden 7 definitely imposes a certain awe – for visitors and residents alike, I am sure.
It is built like a fortress, really, with gangways and internal courtyards. There is absolutely a feeling of being separated from the outside world when you are in Walden 7. Unfortunately, the utopian dream of Walden 7 seems never quite to have come to fruition. The building is in a semi-permanent state of disrepair, meaning there is always a bit of scaffolding or work being done. I think in that sense the residents need to come together, as they safety-proof their homes.

Due to the way the building is structured, I imagine it’s hard not to rub elbows with your neighbours – but as we were touring Walden 7, there were no activities in any of the communal spaces, and hardly anyone was outside on their terraces, balconies or just heading to the mailboxes on the ground floor. It was almost eerie, this huge place laid bare of people and noise. Most apartments have tiny windows, so I couldn’t help imagining these people just holed up in their dark little fantasy homes, waiting for the possibly unwelcome tourists to leave, so they could get back to their everyday lives.

If I am being completely honest, for me, Walden 7 was a fantastic visit and a beauty – but I would never want to live in it. Visiting Walden 7 made me think of a classic architectural ‘would-you-rather’: Would you rather live in a spectacular building, or live in the dull building with views unto the spectacular building?

I almost always answer that I want to live in the dull building. My love of architecture is primarily visual, but I am a pragmatist at heart. I want to live somewhere with plumbing, cladding, windows, fire codes and all the rest up to code. Not in a palace that is beautiful to look at, but crumbling. And that is the impression I got from Walden 7: a marvel in decay.

Wandering off the béton track with Helene, we asked:

Your favourite record?   Any record by Genesis, the Phil Collins years.
A film you have seen more than three times?  Alien
Must see architecture in your home city? My current top 3 in Copenhagen are the Tycho Brahe Planetarium, The Silo and Grundtvigs Church
All images are the copyright of the photographer, visit Helene Haugaard on instagram

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