In 1929 La Nostra Terra magazine announced that a "bell casal de regust mallorquí" had just been built in Formentor and a year later the Ordinas printing house produced the brochure 'Formentor in Mallorca', advertising the hotel which was inaugurated by Argentine magnate Adam Diehl.
"With a discreet and modern taste, it offers all the desirable comfort in a place far from the world and yet close to it,” boasted the leaflet.
Now, the hotel is being renovated but without losing its charm or its history.
Responsibility for the makeover falls on the shoulders of Estudio Lamela, which was founded by Antonio Lamela and is now run by his son Carlos.
They’ve designed many hotels and emblematic buildings in Mallorca, as weel as the Santander Bank Call Centre in Querétaro, Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas Airport and the Canalejas Centre, with a majestic Four Seasons Hotel.
Carlos Lamela says renovating the famous Formentor hotel will be a challenge.
“It is an exceptional hotel, not least because of its history, the calibre of guests who've stayed there and its relationship with Mallorca," says Carlos Lamela. "It is undoubtedly one of the mythical hotels in the Mediterranean and for us it is a great professional challenge but I am convinced that together with the entire team involved in the project we are going to bring it to fruition. Our job is to preserve and emphasise its essence and we are going to architecturally maintain that 'white line' in the landscape, but nearly a hundred years after its opening we are going to modernise it with the help of professionals such as our architectural partners Ángel Sánchez Cantalejo, Vicente Tomás, and ARUP engineering. Everything will be done with the necessary humility and great affection that we have for the Island."
But in a property with so much history, it can be extremely difficult to decide what to keep and what to remove.
The hotel is going to be completely renovated, but it will maintain its philosophy and vital essence,” assures Lamela. “Balancing modernity with a wealth of history that very few hotels in the world have is a daunting task."
The Formentor Hotel was a favourite destination for literary greats, such as Camilo José Cela, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Graves, Miguel Delibes, Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia and the Mexican painter Roberto Montenegro who lived in Puerto Pollença and often frequented the Hotel bar.
“It’s important to us to rebuild the Formentor and intertwine its past with its future. The main investor of the Formentor hotel is an important Mexican business group with whom we have an excellent relationship. In Mexico, excellent modern architecture is a product of historical collections and good architects,” adds Lamela. “We are very aware that some of the most important film stars of the 20th century passed through the Formentor Hotel, and we want to work with that idea and put it into practice in the gardens by paying tribute to those actors in some way.
Carlos and his father, Antonio Lamela are very close to Mallorca and their connection to the Island dates back to the 1950’s.
In 1959, my father designed his first major work which was the apartment building at 33 O’Donnell Street in Madrid, and the builder was the Bilbao company Donato Lasa.
"A family member got married in Mallorca and my parents went to the wedding and stayed at Hotel Bahía which was also built by Lasa and had recently been inaugurated,” recalls Carlos. “My parents were impressed by the paradisiacal beauty of the Island, and decided to stay at Hotel Formentor for a few days. After that trip, my father proposed to the Lasa family that they undertake a project on the island so that they had an excuse to return to Mallorca often, then they started considering the possibility of buying some plots on the Paseo Marítimo,” he adds. "That's when they met Mateo Tomás, a foreman and well-known personality from the Island who’s the father of Vicente, my architectural partner in the Formentor Hotel project. So, my connection with Mallorca comes from family and in the 1960’s my father built very some important buildings in Mallorca, especially on the Paseo Marítimo in Palma.
Carlos says his Dad loved Mallorca and oftent visited the Island in the 1980’s.
“He became interested in travellers who passed through the Island in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and was fascinated by the large villas and possessions that dot Mallorca,” says Carlos. “He started taking notes and making drawings, and when his book came out in 1985 it forged a path for others that were published later.
The tourism boom fired an urgent need for accommodation for visitors arriving in Mallorca.
"It’s true that not everything that was built during the tourism boom was successful, but nor was everything done badly and it's more productive to focus on what was done well," stresses Lamela.
"There is very good quality, well designed modern architecture in Mallorca, such as the classic Hotel de Mar, which also known as the Chocolate Palace because of the colour of its façade and was designed by the great Barcelona architect José María Corderch and right next door is the Rocamarina complex which was designed by my father and I love it very much,” says Carlos. "A few months ago I was on the terrace of Hotel Maricel and I was looking at Rocamarina with its characteristic circular supports, its gardening and coastal rocks which are perfectly maintained and I couldn’t resist, I just had to go and visit it."
"I talked to the caretaker and told him I was the son of the architect who built the hotel and he showed me a plaque with my father's name on it and told me it’s very well maintained and that 60 years after its inauguration, many people still come to see it," he says.
Sometimes Franco visited the building site of the Columbus in Madrid to see how the post-stressed concrete of the suspended towers was being constructed and Carlos says he tried to persuade his father, Antonio Lamela to become Minister of Housing.
“My father was a good friend of the head of the 'House of the Generalissimo', who accompanied Franco on weekends, in the afternoons and at night, when he came to see the towers of Columbus during their construction. Unfortunately the City of Madrid, is making sad and disfiguring reforms that will change the morphology of what is an emblematic building of modern Spanish and world architecture,” says Carlos. “As for the portfolio of Minister of Housing, I remember those days perfectly, because it was an issue for us as a family. The summons came via a motorcyclist sent from the Presidency of the Government. My father, of course, could not accept such an important responsibility, firstly because he never wanted to get into politics and also because he would have had to close his studio, which was the largest in Spain and he was really busy with dozens of projects and had a large team of people to maintain, so Admiral Carrero Blanco had to pass it on to the then President."
Antonio Lamela also met the great architect Alvar Aalto.
"In the 1950's my father went to Helsinki with my mother when Finnish architecture was very fashionable. They called Alvar Aalto and he met them the next day," says Lamela. "As soon as he entered the office, my father saw a large photo showing some buildings he'd designed on the Paseo de la Castellana and he said to Aalto, 'These buildings are mine.' The photographs had been published in a German magazine and reproduced by Alvar Aalto,” recalls Carlos. “Of course my father was very proud of that and spent some time with the great Finnish architect who was very nice.”
Lamela was also involved in the Son Moix stadium works but wasn't entirely happy with the finished project.
"We won the Project and Work competition for the new Son Moix Stadium in collaboration with architect Francisco González and things went reasonably well, but then an extension was added to increase capacity and we were not consulted on that work,” says Carlos. "This just underlines the general lack of consideration that often exists with the intellectual property of architects and as a group we have not been able to defend our professional rights.”
So how should the reforms to the Paseo Marítimo in Palma be carried out, bearing in mind his father built several hotels there?
“On the promenades you have to respect the essence of the city,” says Carlos. “We have enough perspective now to be able to value those buildings from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. In the entrance to our Studio there is a photo of La Caleta with its flying balconies and every time I see it I am impressed that there were promoters and architects who were able to propose such quality and not valuing this type of architecture would be a huge mistake," he says.
Lamela’s design and execution of Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport has been lauded by the world’s most prestigious Architecture magazines as the most beautiful Airport in the world.
“Terminal 4 already appears in many books of architecture as one of the 20 most important works of the 20th century and many airport passengers have told us it’s spectacular,” he says. “It's amazing how many travellers take pictures of it on their mobile phones when they arrive. I watch them continuously. It was very satisfying to be able to work on this immense architecture project with Richard Rogers, it was a fantastic experience. More than a million square meters built between the main building and the satellite, the largest work in the world at the time."
Even architects have heroes and Carlos Lamela says his idol is Norman Forster.
“He is a person who has really impressed me, he has humility and a great ability to listen,” says Carlos. “He’s also elegant and good company and in my opinion he’s the most important architect of the last fifty years.”
“I also have a very good relationship with Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano.”