The Olive Houses

Palma de Mallorca / Spain / 2020

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High up in the Tramuntana Mountains of Mallorca with views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea we have built and renovated two small off-grid houses. The houses are surrounded in all directions by thousand year old olive trees standing on high man-made terraces made out of dry stacked stone walls. This incredible scenic mountain area is one of the most beautiful examples we have on earth of how well wild and human-made nature can intertwine seamlessly, a rare example where Man has given more beauty to nature - than he has taken. Most of the olive trees and some of the terraces here are over a thousand years old, some old enough to have been alive during the fall of the Roman Empire, a few even the birth of Christ. The beauty of this place and that it ́s a response to scarcity rather than excess, has made the area an easy pick for the UNESCO World Heritage List.



It always amazes us to think of the manual work that has been put into transforming whole mountain sides into terraces with these beautiful trees with their interplay of light; their leafs one side dark glossy the other light matte - not to mention their mysterious twisted trunks. With mathematical precision the terraces cuts into the hillsides in straight lines, seemingly unaffected by sharp corners and gorges. Even with todays machinery it seems impossible to redo and makes it very easy for us today to imagine the importance of olive trees on Mallorca, that if anything is the symbol of the Mediterranean region as a whole.


Despite how uniform the olive tree hillsides may look from the valleys, they are actually a huge patchwork of relatively small plots usually owned by families for generations. Even today many families take great pride and invest the hard labour it demands to maintain the dry stacked stone terraces and the vegetation in general. Therefore you will always find a small stone house on each plot that serves to shelter tools, but more importantly a place to make a paella or a stew for lunch, most likely there ́s also a small foldable daybed to take a siesta when the sun is hardest. Still to this day this job is regarded as one of the finest occupations on the island, when you see these proud working people on your way up or down, they meet you with a certain peaceful look and a calm nature.


Scattered around the property you’ll find solitary mammoth-sized boulders that rolled down the steep slopes and now lies here as natural monumental sculptures making up a clearing between the trees. It is said that the boulders still wander downwards, but that humans live to short to grasp their slow dance, only the olive trees grows old enough to see this. Up here it does not feel like time is counted in minutes, hours or even years - but in millennia. To face something living that is as old as these olive trees is a humbling experience.


You have to be very convinced of your own skills as an architect if your hands aren’t trembling when sketching something to be built here. Our first reaction was that only if we could come up with something that would add something in a respectful and beautiful way, would we ever consider building. However it was calming that the functions we were looking to build wouldn’t be much different than those of the existing structures found in the area; a kitchen, a fireplace and a double bed - and as the stays would be minimum a week we added a shower, sink, wood fired oven and electricity for light and a fridge made by a few small solar panels.



We normally lay out some basic dogmas and in this case the first one was obvious; we will not touch or cut any olive trees. That reduced our list of places to build significantly. The second was that of not moving rocks, which later became a pivotal decision. When looking at houses nearby we saw that they were built in up to 80cm thick stone walls with only one or two small windows. Some of the buildings were built into the sloped mountainsides exactly like the terraces, all of which serves to keep them cool. The difference of temperature however makes the interior humid, which is then solved by letting the fireplace burn low most of the day to keep a perfect temperature and to give a little light. This appealed very strongly to us as a solution to keep the house cool in the tough summer, but also as a spatial idea; a half underground inclosed space with an open fireplace, somewhat reminiscent of the oldest archetype of space but also man's first home; a cave. What we find interesting about caves or carved out spaces is the uniformity of its material. This became the idea for “pink house”, a protective enclosed space, a sort of hyper modern space with relatives going back to the first home of man. Like a black and white movie, reducing colors and materials will make shapes and textures stand out more, therefore a unifying treatment of all the interior surfaces, a pink stucco with some drops of orange was chosen. The color was chosen from a number of different reasons, one being that it ́s the exact complementary color of the matte side of an olive tree leave, that besides being beautiful together, has the optic side effect that the olive trees seen from inside seems more defined. This play between house and nature, was further enhanced when we (literally) decided to embrace a big stone. To us the stone became the piece of art - suddenly the house was more about sculpting it ́s backdrop and being its lightbox. That fact pleased us immensely. We lit it from above with a skylight and played with the transition between a perfect curve and verticality - all to give the stone an appropriate new home. Man could shower next to it with cold water collected and filtered through a multiple layered mess and a deposit on the roof. Next to the shower we placed an open fireplace and in the furthest end a long bed. The exterior was built in dry stack stones, only a big sliding door build in teak wood, that turns grey like the stones with time, reveals the house from outside.


The “Purple House” was a small existing structure used for tools. The many hundred year old house was built against a rock formation, simply to save time and minimise the amount of hand cut stones. The house had only one window which was placed next to the rock formation, which we decided to change into the entrance. Like Pink House we decided to blur the lines between nature and house, by paving the floor between the rocks with fluid concrete. This rather small transformation had a big impact on the space, and made it into a quite weirdly magically half nature / half domesticated outdoor space that we are very fond of. The house was to contain the kitchen functions, a dinning room, as well as a restroom. However the space became too narrow no matter how we tried to add a kitchen, we then suddenly realised that we could turn the 60cm thick stone into our advantage; by making one long cut we could use this depth of the wall as the kitchen. This on top gave us a panoramic view, enhanced by an enormous (from in) frameless window, carried by a U-beam that doubles as a gutter. The purple color on the wall is the complementary color of the dark and glossy side of the olive tree leaf. A big sink, a wood fired oven and two gas burners are found in the kitchen - while water is provided from a spring on the highest point of the property.

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    High up in the Tramuntana Mountains of Mallorca with views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea we have built and renovated two small off-grid houses. The houses are surrounded in all directions by thousand year old olive trees standing on high man-made terraces made out of dry stacked stone walls. This incredible scenic mountain area is one of the most beautiful examples we have on earth of how well wild and human-made nature can intertwine seamlessly, a rare example where Man has given more...

    Project details
    • Year 2020
    • Work finished in 2020
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Single-family residence / Interior Design / Building Recovery and Renewal / Chalets, Mountains houses
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