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Lanzarote and the Architecture of César Manrique

 

Lanzarote: the volcanic setting for our latest photo trip, shooting our upcoming 2018 range of men’s swimwear, and an island with a remarkable architectural aesthetic.  Few visitors arrive at Arrecife airport aware of the impact that surrealist artist and architect César Manrique had on his homeland, but within minutes it is difficult to escape his influence – and we wouldn’t want to. 

 

“Lanzarote is like an unframed, unmounted work of art - and I hung it and held it up for all to see." 

 

 Manrique was born in Arrecife in 1919, fought in the Spanish Civil War (as a volunteer on the side of Franco’s Nationalists) and, having dropped out of university where he was studying architecture after two years, moved to Madrid and won an art school scholarship in 1945.  He lived and painted in New York in the mid-60s before returning to Lanzarote in 1968 to devote himself to the island’s natural beauty. 

 

“When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the most beautiful places in the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer… I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world.”

the exterior od cesar manrique's Los Jameos del Agua in lanzarote 

 

As an architect, Manrique respected the barren volcanic landscape of Lanzarote and rather than build on it, he built into it, utilizing the unique geology of caverns, bubbles and tubes created by the historic eruptions that created and define these islands.  He aimed to create a symbiotic relationship between art and nature, working with the later to enhance the former.  His first major project, and one of his most famous, is the grotto of Los Jameos del Agua in the north east of the island.  Here, Manrique created a cultural centre by setting bars, a restaurant, two dancefloors and 800 seat auditorium into the lava tunnels formed by the eruption of the Monte de la Corona volcano 3,000 years ago.  The complex also features a swimming pool that, frustratingly for us, only the King of Spain is permitted to swim in.

 

model wearing riz boardshorts walking around the edge of Los Jameos del Agua in lanzarote

 

In the village of Tahíche Manrique built his home, inspired by a fig tree that he had discovered growing out of the lava field and creating a living space that blurred the lines between the natural and the manmade, and between “indoors” and “outdoors”, often using one to frame the other.  

 

holes in the exterior walls of cesar manrique's Los Jameos del Agua in lanzarote, framing the view

 

César Manrique lobbied local authorities to develop tourism on Lanzarote with a consideration for the natural environment, and when the island pioneered package holidays in the 1980s he was a pivotal force in the introduction of strict building regulations that limit building developments to three stories and prohibit large advertising billboards.  More than 25 years after his death in 1992, Manrique’s legacy is not only the buildings that he designed during his career or those built since by his many protégés across the Canary islands, but also on a larger scale it is the enduring architectural style of the island which works with nature rather than smothering it, adding no more than is necessary.  If only everything was designed in this manner, with nature in mind.      

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