About Us

Our work strives to enhance our sense of surroundings, identity and relationship to others and the physical spaces we inhabit, whether feral or human-made.

Selected Awards
  • 2004 — Aga Khan Award for Architecture
  • 2009 — Mies van der Rohe Award
  • 2013 — AIA/ALA Library Building Award
  • 2015 — Best Interior, Designers Saturday
  • 2016 — AIA New York Honor Award

The Can Surós paper mill

The paper tradition of the old Can Surós mill comes from afar. There are documentary references to the Francisco Surós paper factory that date back to the 1880s, when kraft paper was made.

The traces were lost until in 1959 Josep Escatllar, a manufacturer from Banyoles and with businesses in Girona, decided to build his own paper factory in Besalú, in the Can Surós mill, after having leased the La Confianza paper mill since 1926.

The building, currently in a semi-dilapidated state, had two rectangular warehouses, distributed on two levels, with stone walls, wooden frames and large windows. Outside the building, you can still see the irrigation canal that channelled the water from the river Fluvià to the power generation turbines that operated the paper mill.

From the paper mills to the industrialization of the process

In Catalonia, paper mills were concentrated in a dozen river basins, in which there were about two hundred mills, distributed in about fifty municipalities, mostly in the central counties. Of particular note is the Anoia river basin, especially the municipality of Capellades.

It was common for river basins to specialize in either paper production or textile production, so it was difficult for these two sectors to coincide in the same basin.

The mills had to be located near a watercourse and at the same time close to urban centres or trade routes, but could be found both isolated in rural areas and within consolidated urban centres.

The first documented paper mill in Catalonia is the Albarells mill, in Santa Maria del Camí, which dates from 1193, there are also references to paper establishments in the 15th century in Sant Martí de Provençals and in northern Catalonia (actually part of south-west France). But the real rise of Catalan paper production began in the 18th century, with the construction of most paper mills and the consolidation of the paper-producing areas of Anoia, La Riba, Olot and Banyoles.

At this time Catalan paper was comparable to Dutch paper, which historically had been considered the highest quality, and enjoyed great recognition and demand. This was due, among other factors, to the restrictions imposed by the state on the import of foreign paper, which stopped competition of paper from Genoa and France, and to the granting, in 1788, of the monopoly of the market for paper in overseas colonies to Catalan paper mills. All this meant that the cloth – which was the raw material for making paper – became insufficient, so one of the great milestones of the nineteenth century would be to obtain paper pulp from wood.

At the end of the 18th century, however, there was a great change in the process of paper production, the replacement of manual labour by machinery.

In 1798 the Frenchman Louis Nicolas Robert invented the first continuous paper machine, also called a flat machine, which was perfected by the Foudrinier brothers in 1804.

Five years later, in 1809, John Dickinson, in England, invented what is known as a round machine, which consists of a cylinder covered with a metal mesh that rotates inside a tank of pulp and water, so that the pulp is collected in the mesh and, by decantation, forms the sheet of paper.

Thus, in the early 19th century, mechanization first reached the paper mills in the Girona region, which mostly opted for the flat machine, and a few years later it was also introduced in the mills in the Anoia basin, which instead of installing flat machines that produced medium and low-quality paper, they opted for round machines, which produced higher quality paper, similar to handmade paper. The production of handmade paper stopped in Catalonia around 1919.

 

The artisanal process of making paper

The papermaking process was slow and laborious. First, they had to sort and tear the old rags and put them in a torn espolsador (spinning drum) to remove the rubbish. They were then left to soak in the podridor (to rot) for one to five weeks, where they had to ferment so that the fabric could be separated better. Then they passed to the beaters; there the wooden hammers, moved by hydraulic wheels, crushed them for 20 or 30 hours; the resulting paste was mixed with water in a tub. It is worth noting that the introduction of the Hollander beaters greatly shortened the production time of paper pulp.

The master papermaker dipped a mould into the tub, so that the water would drain between the wire mesh of the mould and only the fibres would be trapped in it. The sheet in the mould was then transferred to a woollen cloth. The process was repeated until 250 sheets (a posta) were obtained.

The posta was pressed to remove most of the water, and the sheets were spread out with the help of the spit, a T-shaped wooden utensil. Once dry, they were glued with animal glue to prevent the ink from leaking, and they were pressed and dried again. The last step was to give them the final smoothness with the glazing hammer and to match the edges with the ganivetes de fretar (trimming blades).

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