Part of getting to grips with a city, even as a tourist, is really getting under its skin. There’s plenty of attractions that Barcelona is known and loved for – and for good reason. It’s Gaudi architecture, the cities beach fronts, and of course the Sagrada Familia. All of which are an important addition to anybody’s travel itinerary. But those sought-after moments that shall be logged by your brain forevermore are found in the beautiful, the unexpected, and the stimulating. All of which are an appropriate definition for Can Masdeu.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Barcelona isn’t exactly well-known for its communally occupied country houses, nor indeed its grass roots revolutionary practises. Yet Can Masdeu is both of those, all the while hosting activities open to the public related to ecology, activism and self-sufficiency in order to encourage and share its core principles. The building has a history of nurturing; it was used as a leper hospital from around 1905 until the late 1950s, after which it was abandoned and completely deserted. So it makes sense for the building to have been appropriated by a bunch of occupants keen to take care of the land and let the land take care of them. After being squatted in the early 2000’s, an eviction attempt was unsuccessful thanks to the non-violent action of the occupants, and since then the housing collective has gone from strength to strength with an ever-growing number.
The estate is fizzing with community spirit. Located in the Valley of Saint Genis, where the green forests of Collserolla National Park hit the concrete jungle of Barcelona city, the ample grounds supply almost everything the Can Masdeu centre needs in order to sustain itself. The residence is situated at the highest point of the property, as if to be watching out over its inhabitants as they cultivate the land for
fruit, vegetables, and even a medicinal herb garden. And it’s not only the occupants who do so; they opened up Can Masdeu to the surrounding local population in order to establish relations, posting notices around the barrio with the only requirement being a desire to grow only organic, and be happy to become part of a collective work. Encouraging local gardeners to plant their own crops has resulted in a sharing of skill sets and new techniques of permaculture. The success of the system speaks for itself, as now there’s a waiting list to join in the action. Communal allotments are not the only defining factor of Can Masdeu, but they certainly set the mark for a standard of ethical commitment. Elsewhere, in line with the ecological principles of the community, many energy efficient systems have been custom made. Solar panels power heaters and electricity; bicycles power washing machines and sound systems; grey water is reused and almost all waste is returned to where it belongs by way of composting.
If squats in Berlin may be known for their hedonistic tendencies, and squats in London perhaps for their political leanings, then let Barcelona’s chief squat-cum-social centre be known for its championing of ethical self-sustenance. And come away from it taking some of that knowledge with you.