The Environmental Hedonist

It’s funny how a quick holiday trip can turn into an unexpected architectural expedition. When I first booked a flight to Lanzarote I wasn’t expecting much more than volcano sightseeing. However, it turned out that the Spanish island featured its own local architect hero.

César Manrique sure had the monopoly to all the hot spots of the lava island long before wifi came in and the jet set junta turned into the easyjet set. A moonlike crater? A breathtaking view? A lavishin’ grotto? Manrique had a voluptuous bubbly lounge for each and every one of them.

I always loved slightly decrepit beach destinations during winter. It must be a Fellini thing. The interesting places in Lanzarote, however, got an extraseason patina whenever Cesar had his golden finger on them. No wonder Rita Hayworth thought Los Jameos de Agua to be the world’s eight wonder.

The great thing about Cesar Manrique’s hedonist architecture is that it emanates this definitive kitschy Hollywood aura – while at the same time it reveals an amazing scenic sense of the organic melting into the rough geological strata. This is sensuous, alternative modernism filling in the gaps.

The cherry on top the cake, however, is definitely the Omar Shariff bachelor pad, climbing high into a hillside paleolithic landslide. The house itself is drag queen vernacular. The swimming pool ensemble, however, is just dashing. You cannot but start imagining hideously gorgeous parties to the sound of Lalo Schifrin.

Meanwhile, it is somewhat bizarre that these Seventies de luxe locations have already become instant fodder for jetloads of low-budget tourists. After all, it took Egypt 4000 thousand years to acquire such suspicious status. However, mass tourism is always there for some good reason.

Coming back to his homeland after a brief artistic career in New York in the early Seventies, César Manrique  just happened to show up in the islands at the right moment. And he had a sharp intuition on how some enhancements were needed on that extraordinary geography so as to properly welcome the masses.

As such, even if the tourist hordes are now countless, the place still emanates a certain balance. There is a joyous, careful pride in the landscape. And this was truly the work of an architect. Or of an artist. As Fernando Pessoa once wrote  “Tudo vale a pena. Se a alma não é pequena.”


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