The White Cubes of Ibiza
How these ancient fincas created a blueprint for sustainable homes on the island today.
For such a small island there are echoes of the past everywhere allowing you glimpses of a history that reaches back to the settlements created by the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Catalans.
Lunar white and glowing in a fizzy effervescence made to appear even more lustrous by the zesty pine trees that paint the land in strokes of green are the ancient fincas of Ibiza. In form, they appear otherworldly; perfectly imperfect cube-shaped buildings originally created hundreds of years ago as vernacular structures that came to be adored and admired centuries later by avant-garde architects searching for a radical departure from classicism towards rationalism such as the Bauhaus movement.
Broner, Le Corbusier, the Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture (GATCPAC), amongst others, discovered in Ibiza a style and ethos of architecture that deeply resonated with them. The island was quite isolated culturally and economically at the time so raw materials found on the land such as dry stone, juniper beams for the roof, sand, clay and marine plants would have been used. Thick walls were composed of quadrangular modules to strengthen the structure as well as provide defence from the elements and any unwanted marauders. The gleaming white exteriors were known to repel the scorching heat in the summer and provided cosy insulation during the chilly winter months whilst windows remained small
Inside a horizontal ceiling with wooden beams and a flat roof ceiling allowed for the collection of rainwater. Built to a modular system the cubes were built as and when the need for more space was required (usually as the family or livestock grew).
Functionality and simplicity were the driving force behind these practical buildings yet something phenomenal was occurring. In their fundamental design and implementation, they were egalitarian, self-sufficient and thus sustainable which explained the fascination of the Bauhaus movement. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that two architects would delve deeper into the historical origins of these fincas, exploring the similarities between the homes found as far apart as in North Africa and the Himalayas. These men were the Belgium architect Philippe Rotthier and the Canadian Rolph Blakstead. Rotthier’s extensive research on these buildings allowed him to carry out numerous rehabilitations of fincas as well as design new buildings whilst paying homage to the old whilst. Blakstad would go on to set up an island-based consultancy responsible for the blueprint of homes that paid homage to the past.
The story of how Rolph Blakstad and his wife Mary came to find themselves on the shores of Ibiza is one of those mystical tales of what happens when you listen to your instinct. The pair were en route to Mallorca when they hopped off the boat on nothing less than a whim back in 1956.
They stayed and made the island their forever home. In 1967 Rolph set up Blakstad Ibiza whilst his wife Mary founded the Morna International College. Today both the Architectural Design consultancy and the college have an incredible legacy that continues to honour and enrich the land and its community.
Indeed, one of the most defining characteristics of a Blakstad design can be recognised by its desire to preserve the cultural significance of the island and its environment.
“The architecture of Ibiza is only a part of an organic, living relationship between man and nature.” Rolph Blakstad, founder of Blakstad Ibiza
This relationship between us and nature as highlighted by Blakstad above is such a simple yet profound principle. It may also have been the wisdom inherent to the creation of the ancient fincas all that time ago almost by default. The necessity to work with nature rather than against it, to give back rather than take, provided the original blueprint for the white homes that are still standing.
As we look towards a future defined by the choices we make today, leaning in and listening to the magical whisperings of those thick fincas walls might just be a good thing to do.
Some of our favourite restored fincas on the island belong to Pacha, which started life as an old farmhouse in a part of Ibiza town that wasn’t popular and one of course La Paloma the family-run restaurant.