I have (re) discovered the island of Lanzarote after 20 years. I am extremely lucky. The first thing that struck me there was the conservation of the island’s natural beauty. As the other Canary Islands, Lanzarote is a popular tourist destination not only for Northern Europeans, but also for visitors from all around the world. My fear was to find an overcrowded touristy island filled with horrible architecture that destroys the natural landscape. That is the pattern in many southern cities in Spain. In contrast, I found a wonderful site with an outstanding architecture. Excluding Arrecife and maybe a couple of hotels in Costa Teguise, the whole island seemed to follow a rule of architectural conservation and harmony. I was soon to learn more about the name behind this beautiful achievement: Cesar Manrique.
Manrique was a multifaceted and prolific artist. He dedicated the last half of his life to the conservation of Lanzarote, where he settled after exhibiting in the most prestigious museums of the world. He was a precursor of sustainable architecture and a heroic spokesman for the island’s conservation. He fought radically against the construction of monstrous hotel complexes that were planned along the coastline of Lanzarote. One of the first things you notice while driving along the roads is the lack of advertising panels. Manrique achieved this. For many years he used to go around the island with bulldozers during night-time, accompanied by neighbours and friends. They removed the billboards that were destroying the natural beauty of the island.
Photos by Elena Perez
In Lanzarote he found a primitive volcanic land, unlimited source of inspiration for his art and, in return, he fought to preserve this natural masterpiece. His architectural work is characterised by a blending of the construction with its surroundings and the use of the traditional white houses. He used the very unique volcanic soil that has resulted in raw lava stones and innumerable caves to create sites such as the Mirador del Rio, Jameos del Agua, Monumento al Campesino, Jardin de Cactus, Taro de Tahiche (his own personal house that can be visited and is a testament to the coherence of his art that he applied to his own surroundings).
Today, we cannot visit Lanzarote without discovering Manrique’s footprint. Locals are very much grateful to the man who gave them jobs and an island to be proud of. He taught them to love their culture; showed them the way to see the beauty in their own landscape. He was convinced that more than an artist or architect, he was destined to work for the beauty. Many of his contemporary fellows see him as a philosopher of architecture that embarked on a coherent journey from the aesthetic to the ethic.
Manrique died in 1992 in a tragic road accident aged only 72. Today, the job is left for his successors to continue the hard work he started and for young architects to keep his values alive and fight for a sustainable and respectful architecture that embraces the culture of its surroundings. In times where mass tourism and all-inclusive hotels are on high demand it might be harder than ever to face big company’s vulgar architectural projects. However, Manrique showed that it is possible to reverse the violence of tourism towards the landscape. Contemporary, conscious artists have thus the duty to preserve his work and follow his example as in the longer term. It is the only way they can contribute to the culture. “The biggest business of a country is the culture of its people” – Cesar Manrique