If you’re in Ibiza, you should stop by Casa Broner, even if you’re not especially interested in design. That’s the recommendation from people who have already visited the place. They define it as a metaphor for the affection that great architects have felt for this island. As poetry in the middle of a run-down neighbourhood. As a piece of the past that unlocked the future. In sum: they praise it from different perspectives. And it’s not hard to get there: it’s just a few steps from the centre of the city, on a side street near the port. “If only for the views, it’s worth the effort,” says Xescu Prats, a journalist and founder of the webpage Ibiza 5 Sentidos.
This highly praised place was once the residence of Erwin Broner (1898-1971), a Jewish architect, painter and ceramicist who came to the island in 1934, fleeing the Nazi regime in his native Germany. In 1944 he obtained US citizenship and moved there. A decade later he returned, combining international work with his life in Ibiza, this piece of land of 571 square kilometres who population today is 132,000.
Broner built the house in 1960 under the influence of Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus School. In other words, he applied the creative currents that fomented craftsmanship, care for every element, a lack of superfluous ornamentation, and the maximum use of the minimum space. When he died –he is buried in the civil part of the city’s cemetery– his wife Gisela took over the building and got in touch with the local authorities so as to preserve it as a legacy. They were thus able to maintain the house, create a museum inside it with a collection of Broner’s works, and have it declared a Property of Cultural Interest in 2001.
Why that honour? According to Elena Ruiz, director of Ibiza’s Museum of Contemporary Art for the past 26 years and a friend of the Broner family, “because it is unique.” But first, she says, it is necessary to know the story. “When it came time to build his house, Broner was very clear about one thing: he wanted to be in an everyday area.” The house is situated in Sa Penya, at the top of a cliff traditionally occupied by shopkeepers and fishermen.
“Important people traditionally went to Dalt Vila to build, but he wanted his house to be here,” she stressed. At that time, she went on, it was a simple neighbourhood. Then –because of drug dealing, robberies and a lack of safety in the streets– the area slowly declined until, last year, some buildings were torn down and people moved away. “The location of the house underlines its personality, it’s a very political choice,” says Ruiz, “and he wanted it close to the sea.”
The waves bring the sound of the Mediterranean right into the house. “You can also hear the reeds banging up against each other in the wind,” she says happily, reinforcing that idyllic image: “It’s poetry within a run-down area.” Gisela Bruner was alone now, and was robbed a few times, which led her to close the house up before dying in 2005, says Ruiz. That’s when the authorities decided to protect it and open it to the public, though without any “kitsch” elements. “We restored the furniture, set up the Broner Archive with many of his belongings, and made the house one of the departments of the Museum of Contemporary Art, with the same opening hours,” she adds.
Both she and journalist Xescu Prats note that opinion on Broner has evolved over the years. “He was the vanguard. He imported European rationalism from the beginning and middle of the past century and mixed it with typical structures on the island. There’s a balance between natural surroundings and human habitation,” says Ruiz. “The roof is especially noteworthy, divided as it is into several sections: a solarium, a place for drying clothes… It’s an excellent example of making the best advantage of space,” adds Prats.
There is no admission charge to the house, and one reaches it quickly. There’s no reason not to visit the chalet on the cliff, and much comment in its favour. Websites are full of observations on the Venetian blinds, the fireplace, the rustic wood beams and the peculiar way of playing with the most basic geometry (rectangles, squares, triangles) so that nothing clashes or becomes mere sterile ornamentation. And if none of this convinces you, there are still those magnificent views.
Gentileza MACE. Ajuntament d´Eivissa. Foto Portada Lourdes Grivé