César Manrique Foundation
The incredible house that´s been created within a series of volcanic bubbles by local born artist and architect, César Manrique, never fails to blow visitors away. Manrique returned home from America in 1966, just as the tourist industry on Lanzarote began to take off. Aware of the dangers, the well-connected César was determined to avert the threat of his beloved island becoming buried beneath a sea of five star concrete.
Uniting Art With Nature
He championed an ecological approach towards development, but needed to physically demonstrate both his skills as an architect and what could be achieved by uniting art with nature in order to win over opinion.
I want to extract harmony from the earth to unify it with my feeling for art
So he decided to build a home, using land that had instead been buried beneath a sea of lava.
The House of Manrique
This ingenious feat of architecture was Manrique´s first major piece of work on Lanzarote
It perfectly encapsulates his organic approach and desire to create a perfect symbiosis between man, art and nature.
Manrique discovered his site by walking the lava fields that surround much of Tahiche.
The green tip of a fig tree caught his eye growing just above the sea of black volcanic rock and on closer inspection he found that this emerged from one of five large bubbles that had been created within the flow.
Work commenced, the five underground bubbles were interconnected, and by the end of 1968 Manrique´s creation was complete, providing him with the perfect work and display space and Lanzarote with a model and vision for future development.
Making An Entrance
Visitors enter the main dwelling through double doors which open directly onto a small courtyard, where the top of a palm tree can be seen poking out of one of the bubbles.
There are some good examples of Manrique’s passion for making art objects out of junk in this courtyard. And some excellent examples of stylish planting, with a pillar box red bougainvillea spilling over the wall and an unusual wall-climbing cactus used to good effect.
The house at ground level borrows many features from the traditional architecture of the Canaries – with wooden doors and shutters, a courtyard garden, low one-storey construction with thick walls and North African style chimneys. But once you have entered the house and passed through what was once the living room, you step out onto the balcony and stairs which hang over the sunken garden. From here on in it is clear that this is a house like no other.
Go With The Flow
The route through the house takes you through the upper floor – which houses a considerable modern art collection, including drawings by Picasso, Miro and other renowned artists. Then you start the descent to the volcanic bubble rooms – the flow has been cleverly designed to ensure that even on a busy day visitors are all moving in the same direction and everyone has the chance of taking photos without lots of people in the way.
Fountains And Bubbles
Once you have reached the bottom of the volcanic staircase you enter the first bubble, where there is a fountain quietly murmuring in the background. This bubble is almost Zen in its careful use of texture, light, water and planting. A doorway opens into the rock and you pass through a short passage way to the first living room – an elegant space, decorated with a white marble coffee table, a beautiful royal palm and a built in concrete sofa with white vinyl cushions. There are elements of this bubble which pay homage to Georgia O’Keeffe (the goat’s skull) and Barbara Hepworth (the porcelain jars on the table).
From the white room the passage leads into the red bubble, which has a centrepiece of a (dead) fig tree, possibly the fig tree that Manrique first saw when he discovered the place. This bubble has seat cushions decorated in red vinyl and a striking statue of a man and a woman. The staircase which connects this bubble to the upper floor gives access to the main living room – although now it is only used by staff at the Foundation.
In The Swim
Following the passage through to the garden, you can glimpse the shower room to your right – complete with shower fitting protruding from the rock walls. Then you are outside, in the sunken garden you will have glimpsed from upstairs, with its dazzlingly turquoise swimming pool. The garden is compact but beautifully finished and encompasses a lovely seating area near the barbecue, a pathway laid out with large volcanic slabs and a bridge over the pool.
Walking through the garden you reach another passage way, which is partly open and communicates with yet another bubble room, this time with a live fig tree growing in the middle. This is the largest bubble apart from the garden and is decorated in a similar style to the others. The stairs leading out of this bubble take you directly into what was Manrique’s studio, and is now the gallery where most of his art work is shown in a standing exhibition.
Occasionally there will be other works of art hanging here – if there is a particularly large exhibition being held at the Foundation, but mostly it houses his larger oil canvases, numerous sketches, ink drawings and other examples of the range of his work. The studio is also a testament to the artist’s creative vision, as the large picture window looking out on to mount Maneje proves. The window was positioned so that the view of the volcano is central and the lava spill in the foreground brings the outer view directly into his workspace.
Off The Wall
On leaving the studio you are once more outside and a series of steps take you up to a more formally planted garden with another fountain. The most stunning aspect of this garden is the large mural on the wall, created out of broken tiles and depicting several bulls. The planting of this garden is sensitive to the mural – bright coloured flowers mimic the bright colours of the broken tiles.
At the edge of this garden are the Foundation shop and a small café, where you can sit and contemplate the atmosphere of the house. The surrounding environs of the Foundation also encompass a separate gallery for smaller exhibitions, the Foundation’s offices and the half-wild half-cultivated land which surrounds the whole
Today, Manrique's house appears to be very 70's to the eyes of many visitors: but at the time it was considered very progressive by the cognoscenti, if not outlandishly futuristic.
As a result a non-stop stream of glamorous visitors, such as royalty and film stars, beat a path to his front door, all clamouring to see this wonderful new creation.
Foundation Cesar Manrique
Unsurprisingly, the house remains just as popular today, welcoming on average some 300,000 visitors a year.
It now houses the best art gallery on the island as well as the HQ of the Cesar Manrique Foundation, a non-profit body established to promote his work and artistic philosophy.
Admission: €8 adults, children under 12 free
Foundation Open: 10.00-18.00 Monday to Saturday, 10.00-15.00 Sunday