Most kids go through a stage of drawing houses. They might start off with the standard square, peaked roof, two windows, front door and chimney with puffs of smoke. Some might take a step into the esoteric and create underwater chambers with sharks circling outside or Martian mansions with radars and satellite dishes. It’s not clear if Rolf Blakstad ever passed through that stage because by the age of seven his father Rolph – founder of Blakstad Design Consultants – had him drafting blueprints by hand.
Rolph had arrived in Ibiza with his wife Mary in 1956, intrepid travellers from Vancouver looking for a different way of life. They raised their five children on the island and set up two of the island’s most enduring institutions: Mary established the Morna Valley School (now Morna International College) as a way to educated her own growing brood while Rolph embarked on a long and storied career as a designer and architectural historian under the Blakstad name. All five siblings were marked by the architectural brush and in one way or another continue to work within the field. Rolf heads up the eponymous Blakstad Design Consultants, continuing the family legacy.
When Rolph and Mary finally realised they were here to stay permanently they immersed their children into the local culture. Rolf speaks fluent Catalan, Castellano and English and identifies solidly as a Spanish national. His roots are strongly tethered to Ibiza through his language, his family and his work. Traces of his father’s passion for local traditions and his pragmatic approach to design are still evident across the island and Rolph would definitely be proud of how Rolf has evolved the Blakstad brand to become the leading architectural practice in Ibiza.
As a child Rolf accompanied his father to building sites, charged with the job of scrambling up crumbling walls and onto dubious rooftops to take measurements. Together, father and son would plot and pace out the foundations of a house or investigate the refurbishments of another. “It was just always part of life,” says Rolf “We spent masses of time together.” The ability to see structure in a pile of crumbling stones had been passed by osmosis from father to son; it was a natural progression for Rolf to continue the work. “My father thought out of the box, but he always approached things from a practical level,” he says. “I think that’s something we still do. It’s not about us, it’s about the space which our clients are going to inhabit.”
What started at the Blakstad family kitchen table has morphed into a vibrant architectural and design office situated along the back roads of the Morna Valley. In this light-filled space designed by Rolph to emulate Solomon’s Temple, up to fifteen people studiously work at a long central table. The angled drafting benches, cartridge papers and India inks have long been replaced by computers and specialised design software. Rolf seems to base himself either on site, in the car or within the book-lined walls of the Blakstad Design Consultants library. There’s a dynamism about him that’s in stark contrast to the studied calm of the office. He’s constantly on the move, his mind quickly grasping concepts and flitting between an intuitive understanding of his clients’ needs and the creative urges of his team.
Pragmatism continues to be the cornerstone of the Blakstad practice and unlike the common stereotype of the egoist architect building a testament to himself, a Blakstad design always comes back to family. “At no point do we consider that we are going to tell people how they should live,” says Rolf. “On the contrary, we adapt our designs on each family. It’s really important to us.” Rolf sees the dialogue between himself and his clients as an opportunity to learn and expand his experience. “Working with different people and different teams gives me the possibility to incorporate new ideas into what we do every day. If we were constantly pushing our own concept everything would always be the same.”
There’s a driving force that propels him ever forward and he appears to relish every stage of a project’s passage. “In my view, the role of the architect is to really understand lifestyle,” he says. “Even though I consider architecture to be temporary, it has to last long enough and be flexible enough to adapt to the family.” With two children of his own, he understands the fleeting nature of family life. “Families change much more quickly than you think. A house needs to adapt to the circumstances – children being born, growing up, leaving. Even the differences between summer and winter need addressing. I try to design according to those needs.”
There’s a sweet spot in a project’s evolution where Rolf allows himself a moment to bask. “Being able to imagine the spaces and see them realised is the part I really enjoy,” he says. “You have to think in volumes, in wholes. You’re imagining walking through them, that’s when you can feel a sort of euphoria. That’s when you can see that something is going to be a beautiful space. Physically giving shape to something and being able to see those concepts come to be built is very satisfying.”
For Rolf Blakstad, the impelling force of the next job soon replaces the satisfaction he experiences at a project’s end. And so, you may catch a glimpse of him, storming through his days, cataloguing a million tasks and obligations in his mind, bouncing from one idea to the next constantly resolving both creative and practical questions. Sit across the table from him in the library however, or take a walk around the foundations of a home yet to be built and you will find him grounded, present and intuitive, continually calculating your personal needs in the context of your ideal lifestyle.