Walden 7 is an urban and mixed-use development on the site of a former concrete factory. Three gigantic structures were originally planned, in the shape of a virtual triangle that enclosed part of the industrial facilities, though only one structure was ever built. Two low-rise, elongated buildings were to be placed on two sides of the triangle, with the buildings connected via passageways at ground level. The area inside the triangle and surrounding the buildings was to be occupied by green space.
The first of the three blocks is a 14-storey building whose shape is reminiscent of several oval bodies squashed together vertically. As one gets closer, these oval shapes clearly reveal a similarity with the structure of a honeycomb design. The ‘cell’, as members of the Taller de Arquitectura have termed it, was planned for a single person.
From the building’s interior, it immediately becomes clear that the cells all differ from one another. Not only does each have a separate entrance, but the location of the entrance door ensures visual privacy. In other words, it was not a question of dividing up a large building in the traditional manner, but of creating a series of individual cells that combined to form a block. It’s as if the architect had taken wooden construction blocks and assembled them on top of and beside one another to obtain an organised, yet organic, unit, while still maintaining their independence—which is more or less what took place.
Each cell was designed to fulfil the particular needs of its individual occupants. The cell is simply a 30m2 room; theoretically it is empty, but this is only the case if the buyer wants it to be—it usually comes with a kitchenette, toilet, bath, table, and various cupboards. The divisions within each cell do not form conventional rooms; the walls are placed merely to create a sense of separation, while curtains may be used to screen certain areas that require extra privacy. This layout isn’t the result of reducing a traditional apartment to an individual one; rather, it’s the modern reinterpretation of a rented room to cater for essential needs.
This new concept runs in opposition to the conventional idea of private life as the division of isolated compartments. In an article, members of Taller de Arquitectura affirmed that, ‘Today’s housing standards demand comfortable spaces that should accommodate people with different lifestyles’. We should not be surprised to find a bathtub in the bedroom or a room transformed into a huge bed. But the clearest evidence that Walden 7 has been conceived for the individual and not for the household is that a family unit wishing to live there would have to combine two, three, or four cells, horizontally or vertically, over two levels.
The project was named after Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Thoreau lived next to Walden Pond for two years, immersing himself in nature; he carried out an experiment in individual, absolute self-sufficiency. In addition, the behaviourist B. Frederic Skinner named his utopian community Walden 2, and suggested similar utopias numbering up to Walden 6.
This tradition can be seen with varying degrees of clarity at Walden 7. It is not only a ‘bunch of grapes’, but also a communal hive; this is what is suggested by the complicated network of footbridges that link each floor of the building, whose function is even clearer in another project designed by the Taller de Arquitectura, the City in Space.