April 22nd, 2020

Our circumstances were already exceptional; seventeen young designers from fourteen different countries sought out the 2019-2020 Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings & Biocities program (MAEBB) hosted at Valldaura Labs based on a common commitment to a more environmentally secure future.

The Valldaura estate comprises 135 hectares within the Collserola Natural Park – an anomalous protected woodland 20 times the size of New York’s Central Park located precisely in the center of the metropolitan area. Though only 10 kilometers from Barcelona’s core, the contrast couldn’t be more drastic: instead of bustling Latin streets collaged by balconies, buskers and storefronts, the doors of Valldaura open to seemingly endless expanses of oak, pine and laurel.

Recognizing the potential of the space for constructing architectural experiments the estate offers despite being relatively accessible from the heart of Barcelona, IaaC acquired the lease in 2008. Its rural character may have seeded the appeal, yet IaaC never intended to leave Valldaura uncontaminated by their trademark barrage of inventive gadgets. Currently, the regal manor house crowning the property is packed with robots, routers, printers, and cutters of its own. Any Bond villain would be hard pressed to conceive a more thoroughly equipped lair.

It is here, in this bizarre agrarian mansion turned avant-garde research center, that the cosmopolitan cohort of the MAEBB attend courses, complete workshops and reside. Summarily, we’ve fully immersed in an experience as much utopian commune as it is an accredited graduate degree.

Our circumstances were already exceptional; then came the virus.

Valldaura’s mission is to investigate how combining ecologic and agricultural resources with progressive tools and creative talent can generate new models for self-sufficient dwelling in which citizens procure their material needs locally while connecting globally via information networks. After five weeks in confinement (strictly maintained due to the extreme risk of group contagion), with no outside physical interactions spare the occasional delivery truck and a minimum of three more such weeks ahead, the present inhabitants of Valldaura Labs are finding out fast.

To date, we’ve worked the gardens and fenced off new areas for agriculture, enjoyed impromptu concerts by our resident violinist, set up a shared library, prepared family style meals on the terrace, and observed how the wildlife carries on its unfaltering cycles of birth, life and death with no regard whatsoever for the pandemic.

The heavy rains of the past few days have kept us indoors, but now the sun is peaking through and the refreshed wildflowers are stunning. As the rest of Barcelona prepares to celebrate the Diada de Sant Jordi – a day traditionally commemorated by men gifting roses and women gifting books – from within the confines of their apartments, we couldn’t be more grateful to be surrounded by flora and fauna in all the colors of spring.