Fernando Menis’ serene refuge in Tenerife’s Santa Cruz

Designed as a private home, and passion project, by one of Spain’s leading architects, MM House is a stylish sanctuary in the heart of Tenerife’s Santa Cruz 

A well-known name throughout Europe, Menis’ portfolio comprises an array of projects ranging from The Presidential Building of The Government of The Canary Islands to headquarters of the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra in Poland. He’s also regular guest speaker at distinguished education establishments such as Harvard, Technical University of Berlin, Columbia University and École Spéciale d’Architecture. But a decade after launching his practice Fernando Menis Arquitectos, during which time Menis has mastered his unique style of sustainable architecture, the Spanish designer is now looking East for new ventures. The firm has yet to complete a project in Asia – the Three Villas Rehabilitation project in China’s Liijiang will be the first – so for now we visit one of Menis’ earlier works, and his private home, on the Spanish island of Tenerife and discuss his inspiration, favourite projects and how to analyse new cultures.

Tell us a little about your background and the firm’s inception.

Ever since I was little, I enjoyed spending time dreaming of shapes in soft materials, such as wax candles. I used to make my own toys with recycled materials, which later inspired me to study architecture in college. After completing my studies in Barcelona and working alongside partners for more than 20 years, I decided to start a new independent phase. In 2008, I established the “Menis Arquitectos” architectural studio with headquarters in Tenerife. “Menis Arquitectos” stands as a practice of high-quality architecture, with a strong craft workshop and establishing a method based on a passion for manual labour that remains intact from my childhood. The work with models involves hands, charged with emotion, to approach the project: a continuous process of addition and removal that sets according to program needs, constructive rationality and economic viability. There is a deep interest at “Menis Arquitectos” for the reuse of natural and environmental resources for each project and site, being those cultural or historical.

Tell us a little about the history of this project.

The building process generates piles of waste no one considers using in other buildings. The same happens when turn-down buildings are demolished or dismantled. This was one of the experiments proposed in our design for the MM House. Its construction took place during the adaptation of a CEPSA oil tank at the Arts Centre. At the same time, Tank 69, adjacent to the one at the Arts Centre, was being dismantled and generating a great deal of waste, so I decided to reuse the parts of the tank to build the stairway in MM House.

Is it still your primary residence and how does it compare to other residential developments you’ve worked on?

It is indeed my primary residence and I built it with that purpose. The MM House is, for both my wife and I, a house that protects and gives you shelter. It is a place where we both know we can be safe from everyday difficulties, where we don’t feel afraid. Its envelope consisting of a system of vertical slats built of galvanised steel tube and wood makes the interior space cool in summer and warm in winter. The pleasant temperature mixes with a breeze that circulates freely and the aroma of the flowers and fruit trees. The light entering through its windows makes us feel healthy and calm. It’s, in summary, the sensation of a peaceful and private life it gives us what makes it different from other residential projects I have developed.

You’ve worked on a slew of big-name, and award- winning, projects, both in Tenerife and elsewhere in Europe. What has been the most challenging and rewarding project you’ve worked on? 

Every single one of my projects has been rewarding in a certain way. The MM House, for example, rewards me with its calmness and comfort. The cultural building Magma Art & Congress, on the other hand, allowed me to develop materials and new forms through the use of dry Chasna rocks to produce cement, never before used for this purpose. It was a great geological success to see those rocks of cement dispersed throughout the arid ground of southern Tenerife, perfectly integrated as if they had always been there.

Both the Multifunctional Concert Hall “Jordanki” in Torun (Poland), which is about to be inaugurated at the end of 2015, and the Sacred Museum and Plaza of Spain in Adeje, made me recipient of the First Prize and the Director’s Special Award at the World Architecture Festival in 2010 and 2012. I was again finalist in 2014 with the Bürchen Mystik Hotel Complex in Switzerland. However, I must confess that, among those three, it was more challenging to emphasize the dichotomy between heritage and modernity in the “Jordanki” cultural centre, but in the end we managed to make it the perfect response to Toruń’s combination of old and new architecture through the play of red brick and white concrete.

You’ve recently expanded operations in Asia. What factors were behind this decision and how do clients’ requirements and expectations differ to those you’ve worked with in Europe? 

The reason of expanding my projects outside Europe was based primarily on the need to analyse new cultures and their effect on the development of new architectural buildings, quite different from the ones I had been used to before. Tenerife and Europe are my comfort zone, so this was a way to make me think outside the box, let it be said that way. However, although I can’t ignore the differences, I must confess I have found multiple similarities among people that remind me quite a lot of Tenerife. Take Taiwan, for example. Both it and Tenerife share the quality of being islands, close yet far from a big continent, so people tend to behave the same way (their lifestyle and day- to-day, the tourism of people coming and going…it’s pretty much a characteristic islands and remote places share). This also happens in Lijiang, when The Three Villas project is taking place. They share the peculiarity of tradition, secured to its roots. This has made me acquire a vision of a global share of characteristics when fulfilling the requirements and expectations of potential clients.

What other Asia-based projects are in the pipeline? 

Our incoming projects in Asia include The Three Villas, a luxury property located in Lijiang (China), a Masterplan in Shawan (China) and the luxury houses for the Next Gene 20 in Taiwan.