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#46 Design that improves nature
...and some puzzling animals
Design Lobster #46 comes to you from the volcanic island of Lanzarote and this week there’s an animal theme. We’re exploring 60’s cave architecture with a very special animal resident, plus a delightful children’s puzzle. All aboard the ark 🐘🦒🐕🦞
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Question: Can you design a building that improves its environment?
In the north-east of Lanzarote there is a huge lava field that was created during the eruption of a volcano called La Corona about 15,000 years ago. At that time a series of caves known as Jameos were created under this landscape by the rivers of molten lava that ran down from the volcano to the sea. In the 1960’s with the arrival of tourism on the island, it was decided to develop these extraordinary natural phenomena into an attraction, initially a nightclub followed by a pool complex and concert hall.
It’s not difficult to imagine how this effort could have been a disaster if it had not been for the guiding hand of César Manrique – a local artist who, on returning to Lanzarote after stints in New York and Madrid took it as his mission to protect and beautify the island he loved. His approach, which borrowed from the ideas of Land Art was to work with rather than against the natural features of the caves, making the smallest adjustments possible to accommodate the new program and working with lighting designer Jesús Soto to amplify the beauty that was already there.
As befitting this approach, no architectural drawings were ever made. Instead, Manrique and his team instead worked directly with the site, rearranging boulders and painting around individual rocks. It’s an inspiringly gentle way of working with nature and the resulting architecture feels harmonious – even somehow inevitable.
Of course, the other reason why I had to include the Jameos del Agua in this week’s Design Lobster is the unique presence in the subterranean lagoon of the species Munidopsis polymorpha. A species of blind squat lobsters found only in caves like this on the island, you can see thousands in the blue water of the pool – arranged on the rocks like tiny stars. 😍🦞
Design takeaway: How could your design work with the natural world and improve upon it?
🎥 A documentary about Manrique called Las Manos was made in 2018. Watch the trailer for it here.
Object: 16 Animali puzzle
Enzo Mari was an Italian artist who also worked with industry to produce works of often politically radical design. He is probably most famous for his Sof Sof (1972) and Box chairs (1971), which critique commercial methods of production and invite interaction from their user. This delightful children’s puzzle, which he designed in 1957 for manufacturer Danese uses a single sheet of oak to make the outlines of 16 different animals. Clever arrangement of their various tails, trunks and legs means they slot together almost perfectly whilst still looking recognisable.
A lifelong Communist, Enzo’s obsession with beautiful forms was as much for the benefit of the workers creating his objects as those who would buy and use them. He wanted craftsmen and women to be able to take pride in the work they were doing. Enzo and his wife Lea sadly died in October of this year, but the body of work they leave behind will be a source of inspiration for many years to come
Design takeaway: Do the people making your design take pride in making it?
🗣 Watch an interview with Enzo Mari from 2012.
Quote: “…the solution to the design problem should emerge from its content.”
– Ernst Keller
Ernst Keller was one of the fathers of the International Typographic Style that emerged in Switzerland in the early 20th century. This graphic design movement sought a return to the basics of type and layout. Poster and book covers by Keller and his successors are notable for their supreme clarity.
For me, this quote is reminder to allow a solution to emerge from what we understand about a situation. I think the best design emerges from the inside-out like this.
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