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Monday, September 29, 2008

Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa

Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile by Rodrigo Searle & Matías González

Photographs are by Sebastián Sepúlveda.

Previously featured on this web page was a satellite building of the Portillo Hotel and Ski Resort, located at an elevation of 3000 meters (9,850 feet) in the Andes of Chile. The sister resort of Portillo is in a polar opposite condition: the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa sits to the north in the Atacama Desert. As each resort caters to different activities, from skiing in the south to hiking and relaxing in the north, the architecture also responds accordingly. Designed by Rodrigo Searle and Matías González, Tierra Atacama uses natural materials to root itself in its dry context, as if it is built from the land it sits upon.

From the mortarless stone wall that greets visitors at the resort's entrance, it is clear that the architecture strives to create a calming environment, one that integrates itself with its surroundings. Beyond the stone that is also featured in other dry-built stone walls and floors, materials include adobe bricks, rammed earth, wood and bamboo. Steel and glass are also important elements in the design, but the former is minimized (primarily it is used in slender columns) and the latter is carefully used in the rooms to frame views like the distant mountains. Generous roof overhangs help minimize the effects of abundant glazing in the public areas, the ceiling's plaster finish melding well with the rest of the palette.

It is fairly common knowledge that heavy earth structures are ideal for desert climates, with their wide temperature swings between hot days to cold nights. Adobe bricks, for example, absorb the heat of the daytime sun to protect the interior from the heat and then release it at night when it is needed. The skillful use of adobe and rammed earth here by the architects acknowledges the benefits of those materials, but eschews any traditional forms in favor of a Modernist sensibility that goes in line with the clientele who visit.

An important element of the project is the handling of the outdoor spaces, especially since spas are typically located in places where the outdoors are an integral part of the soothing experience. Adjacent to the different wings are outdoor rooms, terraces bound by freestanding stone walls that frame distant views. These rooms include furniture and fireplaces for nighttime relaxation, while the swimming pool provides for the requisite daytime activity. Lastly, the landscaping is treated honestly with native vegetation and a minimal touch. Combined with the architecture, it creates a pleasing environment inside and out.

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