Memories that will never fade away… by Bozo Benic
When the Croatian Chamber of Architects published an offerfor professional training placement in a foreign architectural office, as part of the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ mobility program, in June, 2013, I had no second thoughts about whether or not I should apply. I knew that internship in a office outside Croatia was an excellent opportunity to maintain continuity in my field of work by participating in innovative projects, exchanging experience and approaches to architecture, networking in international professional circles, learning about new computer programs and tools, improving my foreign language skills, and maybe even learning a new one. When the official results came in two months later, I found out that I had won a three-month internship in a Spanish office called Menis Arquitectos, located in the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the Island of Tenerife, one of the seven biggest among Canary Islands. As expected, I was overwhelmed, not only because of the exotic and attractive location, but because I would be working with Fernando Menis, whose architecture I had become acquainted with as a student in November 2009, when he was one of the guest lecturers at the biggest Croatian architectural conferences, Days of Oris, held in Zagreb. Croatian and international audience witnessed Fernando present one of his most famous and award-winning projects, the Holy Redeemer Church, built in San Cristobál de la Laguna, a neighboring town to Santa Cruz. Even though I had known a lot about Fernando’s work at that time, listening to his lectures on architecture live seemed like a completely different reality. I was deeply inspired and intrigued both by his meticulous approach to designing, filled with in-depth analysis and ingenious theory, regardless of the type, volume or significance of the project task; and also by his youthful enthusiasm present in each of his projects. At the time, I did not have the faintest idea that I would be given an opportunity to be part of his designing team, so one could see why I was so excited to have won a scholarship for that internship program.
There are truly no words to describe my time spent on the islands of ‘eternal spring’, as Canary Islands are referred to by many people, but the fact is that it had been an unforgettable experience and a chance not to be missed. Together with an international team of young architects from around the world and supervised by the expert, Fernando Menis himself, I worked on various national and international projects on a daily basis. This has given me a direct insight into different approaches to architecture and has enabled me to exchange various ideas, principles and experiences in the best possible way. Daily meetings with Fernando resulted in an atmosphere that was fertile ground for developing new ideas and discourses, and thus formed a basis for high-quality future architecture. However, the ones responsible for such a creative and stimulating work atmosphere were certainly the people. Together with professional advancement, they were the most important segment of the process of professional development at the Menis Arquitectos Office. One could easily notice the full time employees’ sincere willingness to make your time spent on the Island of Tenerife unforgettable. Their cordiality, kindness, warm welcome and smiles with which they meet every new intern quickly grew into amazing friendships, spending time together and going out; or moments in which you got rid of tiredness with the help of huge amounts of laughter, singing and dancing. I remember the first sentence Fernando told me on my first day at the Office: ‘Božo, now that you are here, far from home, your family and friends, you should know that we are your family. I am here, whatever you need.’ I quickly realized that these were not merely words to wish someone a warm welcome with; Fernando was truly like that: sincere, benevolent, kind and thoughtful. There were many evening parties for his team that he would throw together with his wife, Dulce Xerach, in the famous MM House, a house which he designed and in which he lives. Fernando offered various food specialties and select wines spiced with unavoidable chats and these are the memories that will never fade away. The friendships I made at the Office were sincere and deep, and the reason behind this is precisely the fact that the team functioned as a big family. This is why I am incredibly thankful and happy to have had a chance to spend some time on Canary Islands, at Fernando Menis’ Office.
One of the projects that I had the chance to work on, and that I am especially proud of, is the project for the Moroccan Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale of Architecture. Considering that I had participated in the project since its initial ideas and concept sketches, I ended up joining the architectural team whose members temporarily moved to Italy in order to finish the project, and thus unexpectedly prolonged my internship period. This had given me an additional month of priceless international experience in finishing the Biennale project, setting up the exhibition in the Moroccan Pavilion at the Arsenale and in developing the final presentation for the project. After the Spanish experience, the Italian one was undoubtedly a great opportunity for the aforementioned networking in international professional circles, but it was also an excellent opportunity to discover the background of the world’s most prestigious architectural convention. Finally, the opening ceremony of the Venice Biennale of Architecture and the presentation of the Moroccan Pavilion was a chance for the entire Menis Arquitectos team to gather in Venice and to spend a few more unforgettable days in the Mediterranean pearl of culture and architecture, under Fernando’s expert leadership and creating a range of entirely new memories.
However, other than being an excellent opportunity for young architects who are willing to learn the tricks of the trade at one of the world’s best architectural bureaus, internship at Fernando Menis’ Office is a big opportunity for those who love to travel and who are filled with a desire for adventure, adrenaline and sports. The moment you see it, you will fall in love with the enchanting and diverse volcanic landscape made for hiking, or with the crystal blue Atlantic Ocean and its endless sand beaches, ideal for people who wish to go swimming, surfing or snorkeling. Each of the seven Canary Islands is a story for itself, but I do not intend to tell it here. In addition to being a thank you note for all that the office had to offer, I am looking forward to this text inspiring someone else to discover the story on their own by applying for student placement programme at the Menis Arquitectos Office. The months spent on Canary Islands, and an additional month spent in Italy, have left a permanent mark on me, both professionally and personally. That is why I want to say a final thank you to Fernando, Dulce, Elisabeth, Laura, Zuzana, Thomas, Luca, Andres, Katarina, Mario, Ilma and Lesyk. My dearest Menis Arquitectos, I will always remember the moments spent with you and I truly look forward to meeting all of you again!
Dubrovnik, July 20, 2014