In the heart of a historic Nabatean valley in Saudi Arabia, Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel has been tapped to design a luxury resort. The desert region in question, called Al-Ula, is part of a nature reserve, but the Saudi crown prince is hoping to turn the beautiful desert landscape and its ancient architectural monuments into a vibrant tourist attraction. While the Nabateans were also the architects of the more well-known city of Petra, al-Ula has avoided the beaten path, until now. The proposed Sharaan resort will layer the sensitive landscape with luxury amenities—5 villas, 40 residential estates, and 25 bedroom suites are expected to be built by 2023, though plans have not yet been released by Nouvel. “I think that for an architect to build a project on such a site is a rare and wonderful opportunity,” Nouvel said in an article in Arab News. He commented on his unreleased design by saying, “I actually established the relation between history and modernity by using the region’s geographical nature, especially the rocks.” However, the resort is just the first piece of a mega project the Crown Prince has set in motion for the valley. The project designers, called the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU), do claim to acknowledge a degree of sensitivity to both the environment and existing residents in the area. In addition to the Sharaan, a fund for the protection of the Arab leopard, an international scholarship program, and an open-ended program for the "protectors of the heritage of Al-Ula" are said to be included in the full plan for the valley. Upon completion, the project is expected to attract up to 2 million visitors to the site. Prince Badr said in a statement, "We are proud to be signing this agreement with a luxury operator who shares our vision of sensitive development that both works with and incorporates the local landscape and culture in a highly sympathetic manner.” However, as no definitive plans have been released yet, what measures the kingdom is taking to preserve the valley's environmental integrity are unknown. The resort system is expected to create up to 38,000 jobs, offering new opportunities for nearby residents, but the ancient valley seems poised for a seismic culture shift.
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Hot on the heels of the world's first underwater resort opening in the Maldives, an upscale hotel has opened a building with a distinctive solar panel roof on a private island in the Indian Ocean archipelago. New York's Yuji Yamazaki Architecture (YYA), which also created the submarine building, designed the new destination, known as the Kudadoo Maldives Private Island. The architects claim that the 320-kilowatt-peak (kWp) capacity of the roof system is enough to power the entire resort and that the system will recoup its cost after five years of use. Other design touches, like gaps between the panels to allow filtered interior daylighting and an extensive canopy overhang for shading, aim to minimize power use. The Maldives, a low-lying collection of atolls in the middle of the ocean, are exceptionally sensitive to climate change and any subsequent sea-level rise. Some studies estimate that islands like the Maldives may be uninhabitable by the middle of the century as rising sea levels flood aquifers, damage infrastructure, and submerge livable space. This makes the use sustainable power sources like solar panels particularly salient for the area. YYA chose to celebrate the panels on the roof rather than minimizing them or trying to camouflage them among other materials. Visitors will primarily approach the resort by plane, and the panels will be one of the first things they see. Of course, rooms at the private island don't come cheap. A recent search showed rooms starting at $2400 a night.
Ever thought about who sketches those trail maps you rely on so heavily at ski resorts around the United States? We’ll venture to say you haven’t. Maybe all that usually comes to mind as you slide off the ski lift is that the image ahead of you is simply a digitized version of an aerial photo. Meet James Niehues, the Denver-based artist who draws and hand-paints snow trails for resorts around the world. His life’s work guides skiers down mountains at nearly 200 resorts on five separate continents. In his 30-year career, he’s worked with clients such as Breckenridge in Colorado, Whistler Blackcomb in Canada, Mount Snow in Vermont, Whakapapa in New Zealand, and Portillo in Chile. According to Outside, Niehues currently aims to publish a book detailing the many maps he’s completed since beginning his work in 1988. He’s raising money for the legacy project in a Kickstarter campaign, which ends tomorrow. Niehues told Outside that the idea for the book has been top of mind since the mid-nineties, but he’s just now pursuing it after expanding his portfolio of projects. Each one of them is deeply personal and takes time, he said, averaging three months to complete. When starting a contract for a map, Niehues personally shoots aerial photographs and panoramas of the site in order to choose the best angles to put down to paper with a pencil. Since its invention, Google Maps has also enhanced his work, but he insists on exploring the mountain with his own eyes. Niehaus sees his maps as individual pieces of art and visuals that people can dream about while simultaneously using as tools to judge a mountain. “I think a computer-generated map is a reflection of the office—it’s rigid,” he said in an interview with Outside. “A hand-painted map reflects the outdoors. You ski to get into that environment.” In this explanation, he suggests that the typical architectural rendering, something that gives insight into what’s to come, is valuable but isn't as alluring as his final product: the painted vision of the trail. Through his own observant eye and ability to translate by hand the details of nature into a design, the mountain is brought to life on paper and helps skiers understand the terrain.
Ever swum in a cenote? Grand Hyatt spa designed by Rockwell Group inspired by freshwater swimming holes
While cave-like spa experiences aren’t all that novel, the Cenote Spa at newly opened Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Mexico is inspired by the eponymous, naturally-occurring freshwater swimming hole. Cenotes are unique geological formations from the Yucatan peninsula. They look like hot springs but are often the surface manifestations of extensive underwater cave systems, and are considered by many to be energy centers because of their high concentrations of minerals and nutrients. The spa features eight treatment rooms, two double suites and an 82-foot lap pool, while the resort architecture itself is billed “a unique fusion of sleek and contemporary design aesthetics blended with Mayan-inspired elements...that pay tribute to the local surroundings.” The 6,000 square-foot spa facility and cenote were designed by Sordo Madaleno Architects and New York–based design and architecture practice Rockwell Group. A hydrotherapy area and fitness center complement the spa and beauty services on offer, such as the locally-inspired Mayan head massage with cocoa and tequila oils and hot stone massage using Mexican opal. Expect customized scents, a personalized consultation, and a detox juice upon arrival. Facing the opulent waters of the Mexican Caribbean and set on the white sands of Mamitas Beach, the “urban beach hotel” assumes a V shape to reduce its environmental footprint, while a mangrove jungle nestles within the grounds as a wildlife sanctuary. The hotel’s much vaunted Air Suites are elevated over the beachfront of the Caribbean sea, offering unimpeded views of the horizon and incredible sunsets.
Grand Prairie, Texas, has been spared what could have been the nation’s first indoor ski resort and Hard Rock Hotel. The project’s developer, The Grand Alps Group, pulled the $215 million proposal after a meeting with Grand Prairie’s mayor and city manager. They were not happy about losing the big fish. “We were a little surprised,” City Manager Tom Hart told the Dallas Morning News. “We thought we had a pretty good meeting.” In a press release, Sherman Thurston, Grand Alps’ CEO, cited a disagreement about “terms and conditions and costs” as his reason for pulling out of the deal. Apparently the $30 million in tax exemptions, offer to purchase half the land, and return of 75 percent of the hotel-motel taxes that Grand Prairie promised Thurston wasn’t enough to convince the developer, who claims to already have financing in place to build the project, including $100 million from foreign investors, mostly Chinese. Grand Alps is currently looking for other possible sites in the Dallas–Fort Worth area.
Albany Bahamas Resort Honeycomb Building Architect: BIG + HKS + MDA Location: Albany Bahamas Client: New Providence, The Bahamas Completion: TBD A team comprised of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), HKS, and MDA has unveiled its design for the Honeycomb building at the Albany Bahamas resort. This 175,000-square-foot private residential building takes its name from its hexagonal facade, which mimics the naturally occurring shapes in the coral reefs found off the shores of New Providence. When completed, it will be the tallest structure on the island. Infinity pools on each level create stunning vistas of the Elysium-like surrounds of the golf resort, connecting guests directly to this manicured world of pleasure. Swimmers on their own private balcony pools can imagine that they are immersed in the marina and the ocean beyond. Summer kitchens reinforce this connection to the natural surroundings while providing all of the comforts of modern technology. “Our design is driven by an effort to maximize the enjoyment of the abundant natural qualities of Albany in The Bahamas: the landscape, the sea, and the sun,” said Bjarke Ingels in a statement. “A honeycomb facade functionally supports the pools making them sink into the terrace floor and provides spectacular sight lines while maintaining privacy for each residence. Drawing inspiration from its coastal setting, the hexagonal design evokes the natural geometries you find in certain coral formations or honeycombs.” The building contains units with diverse floor plans to suit a variety of pampered lifestyles, while the architecture itself melts into the lush flora and fauna of the resort’s grounds. All images courtesy BIG.
Having successfully covered the world (or at least all 11 outposts of the global Gagosian empire) in colorful spots, Damien Hirst is turning his attention to architectural matters. The artist is planning to build more than 500 homes on the land he owns in Devon, England as part of a broader expansion of the glam seaside resort town of Ilfracombe. Mike Rundell of London-based MRJ Rundell+Associates is putting his undergrad degree in fine art to good use and working with Hirst on the project. “He has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings,” said Rundell of his artist client. Pressed for details, Rundell described the houses as modern and possibly incorporating eco-friendly touches such as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines nestled in the roofs. Pickled sharks or spin art not included.
It's no mystery that Bjarke Ingels is a fan of mountains, but building craggy edifices hasn't been enough for the Danish leader of BIG. Now Bjarke has unveiled his firm's latest plans to incorporate "rooftop-skiing." He previously proposed the Hafjell Mountain Hotel in Norway in 2007 and more recently an imperiled Waste-to-Energy Plant in Denmark that appears to have stalled. The Danish firm's latest competition-winner is a 500,000-square-foot resort called Koutalaki Ski Village in the Lapland region of Finland, consisting of four landscaped buildings that double as ski slopes.
Ingels described the project as "grown from the natural topography rather than dropped from the sky." BIG's landscape-minded hybrid design "left the jury in awe," according to the Finnish developer Kassiopeia Finland Oy. The new manmade mountain is an extension to the existing framework provided by the Levi ski center. The new series of buildings will swirl out from the central square, touching the ground on both ends, enabling the skiers to descend in any direction from the rooftops. The resulting central plaza—which will be used for ice skating and music performances—will be sheltered and intimate, while at the same time open to the views of the surrounding landscapes. In the off season, the manmade landscapes will turn green, blending with the surrounding forest environment for picnics and hiking.