In my youth (many, many moons ago), I (Storm Cunningham) spent three months on Ibiza, one of the four Balearic Islands of Spain. This was back when Ibiza was a bucolic agricultural paradise…before it was transformed into an Ecstasy-poisoned party place.
Mallorca, the major island in the chain, already had a far more diverse economy—much of it based on tourism—and it had many more architectural assets. They’ve done a better job than most of protecting that built heritage, even establishing the world’s first “restoration tax”, which I documented in my 2008 book from McGraw-Hill, Rewealth.
Now, in March of 2022, renowned, Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV and Spanish architects GRAS Reynés Arquitectos have announced that they are revitalizing the neighborhood of El Terreno in the city of Palma on Mallorca.
Their jointly designed plan renovates four existing buildings and adds three new ones to reinvigorate El Terreno as a vibrant, green, sustainable residential neighbourhood. Each of the buildings have their own unique character derived from their colors, materials, and rooflines, together forming a distinctive place that is in tune with the Mediterranean lifestyle.
“By mixing new buildings and reused structures, we rejuvenate the neighbourhood while maintaining the connection to its illustrious past,” says MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs. “Renovating the Gomila Center is not only ecologically sustainable, reusing the building in line with principles of circularity, but also offers a reminder of the history of the area.”
Until the 1990s, it was a cultural hub – home to many of the city’s famous artists and writers and known for its nightlife, with famous performances by musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, and Tom Jones in its bohemian nightclubs.
However, it has recently seen a long period of neglect and decline. The Fluxà family, owners of the Mallorca-based Camper shoe brand, purchased a series of neighboring plots around the Plaza. They asked MVRDV and GRAS to develop a renewal plan that echoed Camper’s philosophy of combining heritage with innovation and creativity.
“Project Gomila is not just a mass of buildings; it is a concept that adds value to the neighbourhood via an effective public-private venture, including a unique residential housing project,” says the Fluxà family.
“It restores the identity of the community square, which was a centre of avant-garde nightlife from the 1950s to the 1980s before slowly deteriorating and fading from relevance,” they continued.
The resulting designs, collectively named Project Gomila, aim to recover the essence of a neighborhood that occupies a lasting place in the memory of many Mallorcans.
The seven diverse buildings, each executed in a different color and material, add 60 rental homes in a variety of styles and sizes intended for local inhabitants who work in the surrounding area, as well as additional commercial space. The many bright colors, emphasized by the Mediterranean sun, advertise the vibrancy and rejuvenation of the neighbourhood.
Each of the buildings brings not only its own character, but also unique amenities, with facilities such as restaurants and bars being public while amenities such as pools are accessible to residents of all buildings within the plan.
Five of the buildings of Project Gomila are already under construction. The largest building, at the heart of the ensemble, is the Gomila Center, a renovation of a 1979 design by architect Pere Nicolau.
Also included in the first phase is Las Fabri-Casas, a set of blue row houses with a saw-tooth roof, the red townhouses known as Las Casitas, a sustainable apartment building built in rammed earth and, directly adjacent to Plaza Gomila, the green building simply named La Plaza, which transforms an existing building.
A later phase will add two further buildings to the ensemble: the yellow Casa Virginia, and a small construction next to the Gomila Center, both renovations of existing neighborhood buildings.
“We wanted to create a social, human neighbourhood in which all people would feel at home,” explained MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas.
“The colour palette matches the sunny Mallorca, from terracotta and earth tones to bright blue and red. Because the roofs are cut in different ways – one stepped, one sloped, one with jagged gables – a diverse, recognisable district is created,” he added.
“The project goes beyond architecture or building design,” says Guillermo Reynés, the founder of GRAS Reynés Arquitectos and a native of Palma.
“It creates a sense of community, a ‘Gomila belonging’ – something that has been missing for a long time in this part of the city but that has always been present in the memory of generations of Palmesanos. It is a unique opportunity, and a challenge that also brings a lot of responsibility,” he continued.
The Gomila buildings have been designed according to Passive Haus principles, with high thermal efficiency and passive climate control measures such as shutters and cross ventilation to reduce energy needs.
To make full use of the many hours of sun enjoyed in Mallorca, solar panels are added to rooftops while heat recovery systems further reduce the buildings’ energy consumption.
Materials will be sourced locally wherever possible, reducing the carbon produced by the construction.
All images courtesy of MVRDV.