Sheltering the Imagination

The Olive Houses

Written by Forde Visser
Photographed by Marina Denisova

Since they were built in 2019, the Olive Houses have attracted attention. mar plus ask’s pair of small off-the grid structures (basically, one for dwelling; the other for cooking) are discreetly and eco-sensitively tucked into the hills of the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca.

With walls built of dry stacked rock from the area, they are camouflaged in their environment, yet their images bob again and again to the surface in population centers and distribution in-boxes around the world: published by The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Kinfolk, and many others, including this story in Openhouse. Clearly, the image of a tiny stone house nestled into nature pulls at childhood memories, fairytale/fictional settings and spiritual retreat. In short, they capture the imagination. 

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The placement of the Purple House (kitchen, restroom) was already decided by an existing tool shed, but it took the methodology of walking the hillside over and over to determine a small footprint for the Pink House, according to the significant rules that Ask and Mar had decided on: no cutting olive trees, no moving rocks.

This self-imposed architectural “dogma” also seemed to function like an imaginative child’s game, releasing creative and unexpected responses…as with the boulder’s toe that is invited into the living space rather than cut away.  Unlike other architectural rocks (thinking here of Frey House II), this is a subtle, even sweet, intrusion. It performs no dramatic entrance or slicing of space; rather it almost behaves like a pet, sitting in the corner trying not to look like a Great Dane.

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The Olive Houses capture our imagination, even through their images circulating in the architecture ethernet. In the hills of Mallorca, they sit as if we (humans) lived perched on the slender crust of a planet in the narrowest margins of atmosphere (which we do). As if our moments on it should be tender and provisional, while still expressing our human energies and joys.

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