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Can Masdeu - Inside Barcelona's Self-sustaining Squat


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Can Masdeu—a monument to Barcelona’s radical past and uncertain future—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 2000s, 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 forfruit, 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.

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