The Small Wonders of Lanzarote
A Spanish island with a volcanic past, and a colorful history
When most people think of the Canary islands of Spain, one of two things come to mind. Some know it as one of the biggest tax havens in the European Union, with a corporate tax rate of just 4%, while others come here for the natural beauty
I knew very little about the island of Lanzarote when I first arrived. I was in Morocco last year when I first saw it on Google Maps and surprisingly, the region is closer to parts of Morocco than it is to Spain.
As luck would have it, I found a unique living experience on Airbnb which looked too intriguing to pass. With a volcanic landscape, surf-friendly shore and a canvas tent near the ocean, the beach town of Famara hit all the spots. I wanted a little break from Madrid, to be away from a city to spend some exclusive time in nature.
Coming to a place where you’re slowed down by the pace of the ocean, anchored by the mountainous horizon and fed by the calming atmosphere can do wonders for your physical and mental health. We’ve grown accustomed to living in box-like homes, powered by artificial LED lights, surrounded by mobile towers and airwaves that affect our biology in ways that we don’t fully understand yet.
For a visual thinker like me, my thoughts are deeply linked with my vision. When I find myself in an enclosed space for a long period of time, I observe my thoughts becoming more insular and limited by my surroundings. But when I’m in a setting where I can see all the way to the horizon, it allows a level of free-thinking that allows the mind to expand and see possibilities.
New Visions in Nazaret
The island, although quaint, has a rich cultural and artistic history. One of the biggest artists to come out of Lanzarote was Spanish artist and architect Cesar Manrique. He was a strong proponent of preserving the island’s natural beauty and instrumental in preventing over-tourism from ruining Lanzarote’s coastline. Eclectic as he was, hanging out with the likes of Andy Warhol during his time in New York, he came back to Lanzarote with a vision for how the island should present itself to the world.
Apart from some of the homes he built and lived in on the island, he worked in collaboration with fellow artist Jesus Soto and developer Sam Benady to create a mansion carved out into a mountain quarry. The home, now a public museum called Lagomar, once belonged to Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, who bought it while on a filming trip to Lanzarote. Ironically, Sharif lost the property during a bridge game to the property’s developer the same night he bought it.
On a personal level, this opened up a world of possibilities for me. I’ve always had an interest in spaces that can inspire me to create and induce a feeling of mental and emotional well being. Being a homebody when I’m not out and about, I’ve always sought a home space that not only makes me feel comfortable, but also doubles up as a space to work on paintings, photographs, music and writing. I’ve always dreamt of creating a home that is in harmony with nature, from which one can see as far as the eyes go.
In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in architectural design and its intersection with art. Growing up with multiple interests, I was always told to specialize and become a master at something. That people who spread themselves across various skillsets and interests are merely a “jack of all trades and master of none”.
I fundamentally disagree with putting limits on what a human can learn and achieve in a lifetime. Historically, figures like Michelangelo worked across disciplines such as painting, architecture, sculpture and poetry seamlessly. Few would argue that he wasn’t a master at a few of these.
Today, as a society, we are trying to create specialists who master one skill throughout their life and become known for it. This is extremely limiting to individuals who are multifaceted and may not even be aware of their talents without attempting to work with them. It creates this cookie cutter personality that we can easily put in a box and identify with. Seeing Cesar Manrique’s life and work in Lanzarote, I am increasing convinced that if humans can imagine something, they can find a way to execute it.
After seeing all the sections of Lagomar and keenly observing them, I’m inspired to create designs for homes and buildings inspired by my artwork. My own city, Chandigarh, where I grew up in India, was created from scratch by French architects Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanerret. The city was purely inspired by their artistic vision and references from their paintings, sketches and sculptures are peppered throughout the city. It has now become a study in utopian architecture and it’s only right that I help continue the tradition where art and architecture intersect.
Timanfaya National Park
One of the biggest attractions on the island of Lanzarote, Timanfaya is a 50sq km site where one of the biggest eruptions occurred on the island in the 18th century. It destroyed everything in its path and very little wildlife or fauna exists here since then. One of the volcanoes, Timanfaya, is still active; the park is named after it.
The landscape was unlike anything I have seen before. Stretches of endless, hardened lava with topography and colors that could be mistaken for the surface of Mars. Artists like Cesar Manrique were heavily inspired by the landscape of Lanzarote, referring to the island itself as a work of art. I couldn’t agree more, even while taking a short drive on the island, one is likely to see at least a few mountains in the backdrop. I haven’t yet, seen another place as untouched as Lanzarote; it feels like a place straight out of the dinosaur era.
I wish I had more time on this island during this trip, there is a lot of inspiration to soak in, lots of ideas to be generated and hopefully, some traditions to be continued. I’ll definitely be back for a longer period of time — but I hope to continue the legacy of Manrique in some way. If I don’t do it here on the island, I will carry this legacy of art-inspired architecture and building in harmony with nature and do it elsewhere in a way that inspires and instills the same kind of hope Manrique’s work has instilled in me.