In the early 1970s, Gomera exhibited all the characteristics of an island in decline. The water supply was dwindling, the road network inadequate, public transport was negligible and, with the exception of one forty-bedroom hotel, there were no facilities for tourists.

Fred Olsen ran cruises to the Canaries and wanted to investigate Gomera's potential as a tourist destination. In response to that brief, this masterplan raised issues of sustainability long before the 'green' agenda was being addressed worldwide. Its aim was to encourage self-sustaining development on the island, based on a combination of indigenous construction techniques and prefabrication. The report stressed gradual change, its proposals in deliberate contrast to the aggressive patterns of commercial exploitation then being implemented throughout the Mediterranean.

Studies of original settlements highlighted a single-aspect dwelling that looked out to the sun and had as much shaded area outside as it had habitable area inside. These ingredients generated a high-density, low-rise solution that responded well to the climate. Its traditional construction techniques addressed the island’s surplus labour problems and the high cost of importing materials. At the same time it was suggested that new, clean industries could be established to prefabricate kitchens, bathrooms and the like.

This approach was reinforced by alternative methods of energy generation and water collection. Constant sunshine and steady winds made the island a natural test-bed for solar and wind power, while other systems, such as methane production from domestic waste, were explored to reduce dependence on imported oil. One of the priorities was to improve the water supply. A number of natural systems were proposed, including the construction of a catchment round the upper levels of the island and the use of solar stills.

Existing proposals for a new airport and a ring road around the island were challenged. Instead a series of access roads and funiculars to Gomera's many small bays was proposed. In the same spirit, an island-hopping link by STOL aircraft was suggested. Both alternatives sought to preserve the traditional character of the island whilst recognising the importance of modern communications to its long-term survival.

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 1975
  • Client: Fred Olsen Ltd