22 Nov

Architect focus: Cèsar Manrique

It has been 100 years since Cèsar Manrique, the architect of buildings including Mirador del Rio, Jameos del Agua and the Lago Martiánez, was born. The innovative designer and ecological pioneer is the most famous artist to come from the Canary Islands, winning the World Prize for Ecology and Tourism in 1978.

Manrique was such a remarkable architect because his work still influences the entire island of Lanzarote to this day. All the structures and buildings across the island follow his disciplines, resulting in a unique and unforgettable aesthetic. While Lanzarote attracts plenty of sun-seeking tourists, many visitors do not realise that the colourful roundabouts, cultural attractions and gardens stem from one man’s creative vision. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, but how did a local islander become such a huge architectural figure in the world of design?

From humble beginnings and American influences

Manrique was born in 1919 in Arrecife, Lanzarote. After volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War, he attended the University of La Laguna to study architecture before receiving a scholarship for the Art School of San Fernando in Madrid. It was during his time that he began exploring non-figurative art and studied the properties of matter. From then on, these concepts would be dominant in his work, making him a fundamental player in Spain’s contemporary “informalist” movement.

Significant early projects included landscape paintings that he produced while living and teaching in New York between 1964 and 1965. Although he disliked the urban environment, he gained a lot of value from his exposure to American non-figurative expressionism, pop art, kinetic art and sculpture. Here, he held three solo exhibitions at the prestigious Catherine Viviano Gallery. However, he attracted the most attention for the work he did in Lanzarote after his return in 1966, at a time when the island was beginning to grow in popularity with the tourists.

Architecture that celebrates the natural environment

From then onwards, he dedicated his efforts to a series of spatial and landscape projects that reflected his environmental and ethical values. By using the geographical landscape of the island as his canvass, it was his personal mission to blend the boundaries between humans and nature. Through his work, he wanted to magnify the island’s natural attractions and highlight the unique elements of the landscape, therefore making the island a fundamental player in the European holiday market.

Lanzarote, Spain – February 11, 2018: Auditorium in famous landmark Los Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote, Canary islands, Spain.

‘For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place in the world. That’s why I decided to show Lanzarote’s beauty to all of them’ – Cèsar Manrique

Manrique realised that for Lanzarote to achieve its full potential as a tourist destination, all the houses and buildings needed to stay in keeping with the traditional style. He successfully lobbied for sustainable development, ensuring the protection of the island’s natural heritage. He fought against the use of roadside billboards, road fences, high-density developments and much more.

His efforts still influence modern-day planning regulations on the island. Apart from the buildings in Arrecife and one other building on the island, all houses fit within strict height limits and painted a brilliant white to contrast with the dark, rocky landscape. There is just one high-rise hotel in the island’s capital Arrecife, and all the towns have retained their authentic charm as a result. You will even notice that there is a distinct lack of advertising billboards and banners around the island.

Masterpieces built into the volcanic rock

Since his death in 1992, his work continues to influence the island and remain the most prominent attractions for tourists. Visitors get to experience his art from the moment they land at the island, with a unique mural painted by Manrique at Guacimenta airport. Los Jameos del Agua was one of Manrique’s first centres for Art, Culture and Tourism. Built into an exceptional volcanic ‘tube’ naturally formed out of lava 4,000 years ago, the centre consists of gardens, pools, a museum, a restaurant and an auditorium with superb acoustics. Some tunnels sit under the sea, and a natural salt lake serves as a home for rare, white, blind crabs.

Lanzarote, Spain – March 29, 2017: People visiting volcanic cave in Jameos del Agua, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

The Mirador del Río sits at the top of Risco de Famara, offers panoramic views of the island of La Graciosa at an altitude of over 475m. Once a military fort, Manrique transformed the site in the 70s to camouflage into the rocks. The curved building has white walls and large glazed windows, with plenty of telescopes to help explore the view.

Stoned building at El Mirador del Rio in Lanzarote created by Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain.

Completely transforming an abandoned quarry, Manrique created Jardin de Cactus, a symbolic botanical garden built into the shape of an amphitheatre with over 4,500 spiked cactus plants thriving in the wind-swept volcanic landscape. The garden includes a windmill built from matching black stone, a pond and cobbled paths.

Beautiful tropical cactus garden in Guatiza, Lanzarote, Canary islands, Spain.

The Cèsar Manrique Museum

One of his most prominent pieces of architecture was his own home, where he lived for 20 years. Preserved exactly as he left them before his death, his home and studio are now open to visitors as the Cèsar Manrique Museum. Visitors can immediately appreciate the calming, natural environment that the artist loved so much. The building was adapted from an old farmhouse that he brought in the 70s and designed to complement a lava coulee formed during the famous Lanzarote eruptions between 1730 and 1736. Here, you will find courtyards, rooms built into volcanic bubbles, exhibitions halls with solidified lava flowing through the windows.

We admire Cèsar’s dedication to his island’s heritage and his love for innovative design. Sadly, Cèsar was involved in a tragic car accident in September 1992 at the age of 73. He was on his way back home from the Fundacion in Tahiche. His work is infused with the fundamental artistic values that meant the most to him, with a respectful dialogue between art and the natural environment.