[Marc Alt] Last year we visited the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of northern Africa. The island is at least 30 million years old, an otherworldly landscape of ashen mountains and rocky plateaus formed by countless volcanos and relentless erosion from wind and sea—as seen in the above image of Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park. Settled over 2000 years ago by ancestors of African Berber tribes, Lanzarote is one of seven Canary Islands that are territories of Spain.
This volcanic tableau was, for the late part of the last century, the canvas and palette for designer, artist, architect, painter, sculptor, urban planner, environmental advocate and native son, César Manrique. In subtle but remarkable ways, the aesthetic vision of this renaissance man helped guide the development of the island, preserving the visual, cultural and environmental integrity of its unique ecosystem and landscape.
Visiting the the rocky seashore of Playa El Golfo
Born in 1919 on Lanzarote, Manrique left the island to study art in Madrid, and then moved to New York City in 1964 where he associated with Andy Warhol and other cultural figures. Soon after he returned to Lanzarote, bringing with him an artistic and design sensibility that has left a remarkable fingerprint on the island. He wrote, “‘When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the more beautiful places on the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer.”
While the Canary Islands are major a tourist destination, many of the planning provisions Manrique helped put into place still stand in Lanzarote, including no building taller than a palm tree, no high-rise hotels, consistent building styles and the freedom to paint your house any color, as long as it’s white. In recent years, the real estate bubble led to unchecked development in certain parts of Lanzarote which has threatened the island’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status.
The ultimate testament to Manrique’s appreciation for the primal landscape of Lanzarote is his former home, built into an underground series of volcanic tunnels and filled with 1960s design touches and artwork. It’s the ultimate Man Cave and Bond villain hideout combined in one incredible visual feast of black lava, stark white stucco, succulent and tropical plantings, and sculptural art.
Manrique’s Lanzarote is a truly unique opportunity to experience the impact of a comprehensive design vision, coupled with the lasting effects of a deep environmental and cultural sensitivity to the land.
Marc Alt is a designer, humanist and futurist. He is partners with Johanna Björk in a small creative agency called MOJO Projects in Ojai, Calif.