Creative Director & Co-Founder Jason Watson Todd reveals why putting the environment at the heart of the design process pushes his studio to keep innovating.
As you might expect for a company whose name literally translates as “earth” and “life”, nature is the building block for every Terravita design. After more than two decades on Ibiza, the multi-discipline studio has honed a reputation for low-impact homes that enhance their environments. And vice versa.
“The best architect in the world and the greatest teacher is nature herself,” reflects Jason Watson Todd, who co-founded the practice with his brother back in 1999. “Learning how to dance with her – looking at her patterns, rhythms and textures” is, he states, what Terravita is all about.
Gardens are where Jason started – and landscape design is still the studio’s bedrock, now enhanced by a full suite of architecture and interior design services. Today, team Terravita includes a biologist, an art director and an industrial designer, along with technical architects, landscapers and engineers, all united by a shared passion for, and endless fascination with, the natural world. Together, they adopt a biophilic approach – “working in harmony with nature – pulling nature into the architecture, rather than pushing it out and working against it,” as Jason explains.
“The cornerstone of the company is to be environmentally conscious and where possible, lessen the impact we have on the earth.”
- Jason Watson Todd, Creative Director & Co-Founder
Sustainability is more than a buzzword for Terravita; treading lightly has always made sense. “The cornerstone of the company is to be environmentally conscious and where possible, lessen the impact we have on the earth in terms of materials or energy efficiency,” says Jason. “Whether a project is a new build or reforming a traditional finca, we look to always use natural, organic and locally sourced materials where possible, such as wood, stones and lime renders.”
It’s an ethos that Terravita brings to schemes of every shape and size: from playgrounds to outdoor kitchens and cinemas. Obstacles are an opportunity for the team to think outside the box and create spaces that both do good and feel good to live in.
Take Can Tanca. A zero-carbon villa that’s one of the only homes in the world to be both Passivhaus and BREEAM certified for its eco credentials. Powered by solar panels and harvested rainwater, it creates more energy than it consumes. It’s a triumph of aesthetics too. Sustainably grown wood and lime render has been whitewashed in keeping with the island’s distinctive architectural style. A wraparound terrace links views of the pine valley with pared-back, light-filled interiors. There’s a natural pool that replaces chlorine with aquatic plants, while an orchard and vegetable patch add to the feeling of self-sufficiency.
“Can Tanca really embodies Terravita and all the company stands for,” notes Jason. “It’s a fusion of energy efficiency, environmental respect and good design that is harmonious with nature and uses natural, low-impact materials. It’s a culmination of all the innovations and advancements we’ve made since starting the company.”
It also demonstrates that eco credentials don’t have to come at the expense of style, or functionality for that matter. “There can be a misconception that sustainable housing will, in some way, compromise living standards or force the occupants to adopt a certain way of living. But Can Tanca was designed and built specifically to stand up to the rigours and demands of modern family life without compromise.”
New builds like Can Tanca are joined by traditional finca restorations in Terravita’s diverse portfolio. Whatever the project though, the result has to fit with a client’s lifestyle. The process always starts with getting to understand their lifestyle and how the finished project will best complement it, Jason explains. The team will analyse the existing building and the surrounding environment – the location, the light, the shade – before returning to the studio to brainstorm. “The whole team is involved, irrespective of their specific discipline,” he says.
“The best architect in the world and the greatest teacher is nature herself.”
- Jason Watson Todd, Creative Director & Co-Founder
Innovation comes with the territory for Terravita, but sometimes the real challenge is encouraging others to embrace the unknown. “We’re still coming out of the old mindset that for the last few thousand years, we’ve designed to keep nature out of our buildings. But now, we have to work more in harmony. Before it was about conquering nature whereas nowadays, we must work with her and pay homage to her.”
One sticking point can be convincing clients to use non-standard building materials, like organic clay or lime instead of a concrete finish. Not that these finishes are new – the formula for lime rendering has been around since the Roman Empire, and some of those buildings are still standing, Jason points out. By straying from the well-worn bricks-and-mortar formula where possible, Terravita can design for both the present day and – hopefully – perpetuity.
As for the future, the studio is about to start the final phase of a passion project in mainland Spain – a health and wellbeing retreat in the hills of Asturias. Jason has also branched out into podcasts, appearing as a guest on Amar La Tierra. Hosted by journalist Jo Youle, it delves into the history of agriculture in the Balearics, speaking to activists and protectors of the landscape.
Much like the show, Terravita is inspiring others to make a change. By pushing the envelope of environmentally conscious design, the studio continues to find new ways that people and planet can exist symbiotically.
“For me, the projects that are the most organic, harmonious and nature-loving are my favourite to work on,” reflects Jason. “Architecture and landscape design go hand in hand, but I like the emphasis of architecture on the landscape – one can’t live without the other.”