Puerto Escondido Hotel

WORDS Martin Jacobs PHOTOS Jamie Navarro and Fabian Martínez

Designed as a response to how aliens could imagine mankind to live, Hotel Terrestre – a new luxury hotel on Mexico’s Puerto Escondido coastline – is an arresting piece of sustainable architecture that looks to both the past and the future.

Hotel Terrestre is embedded in the landscape, as if it has been there for hundreds of years,” says architect Alberto Kalach of his otherworldly masterpiece, 25 kilometres northwest of resort town Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca. Alberto knows a thing or two about this area. It may be a half-day’s drive from his Mexico City studio, Taller de Arquitectura X, but the pristine coastline famed for its surf is already home to a handful of his projects. So when approached by Carlos Couturier, co-founder of Mexican boutique hotel group Grupo Habita, to design a multi-sensorial property that redefines sustainable tourism, he jumped at the opportunity.

Puerto Escondido Hotel
Guest accommodation is split between two blocks, each home to seven villas.

His environmentally sensitive approach to architecture has shaped several structures in the area, including Hotel Escondido and the award-winning restaurant Kakurega Omakase. These buildings hold their own in a landscape populated by hotspots like Casa Wabi, a retreat by starchitect Tadao Ando, and a permanent outdoor installation by artist Bosco Sodi.

READ MORE: Cool Spaces: Casona Sforza by Alberto Kalach

Having previously worked with Carlos, Alberto knew what to expect. The brand, known for introducing boutique hotels Habita and Condesa DF to the country’s capital, has 14 Mexican establishments, some designed by architectural luminaries such as India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. Alberto anticipated this project would differ greatly from Grupo Habita’s existing offering; what he couldn’t foresee was a somewhat mystical concept inspired by how aliens could imagine the dwellings of terrestrials on Earth.

Carlos believes that, in the age of domestic space travel, mankind remains pre-occupied with extra-terrestrial activity, and he wonders – as obsessed as we are with life in other galaxies – how we would be seen through the eyes of aliens. “The Earth is our most valued asset as humans,” he says. “Our goal is to preserve and enhance our land, to rethink wellness.”

Puerto Escondido Hotel
Constructed from Oaxaca’s sand-coloured mud brick, an ancient-looking sculptural building houses the hammam. Its interior is divided into seven chambers, offering hot and chilled baths, steam rooms and outdoor showers.

“I conceived the hotel as a group of buildings hidden among the delicate vegetation,”explains Alberto, who oversaw the landscaping. He points out plant life rich in mesquite and oleander trees, bromeliads and orchids. “The existing vegetation remained untouched. We built in areas where there were no trees, and planting was done in areas that were naturally empty.” Surrounded by jungle, the Sierra Madre del Sur and the Pacific Ocean, the hotel offers uninterrupted views of all. It takes the form of two stepped blocks, each home to seven identical villas that guarantee equal guest experiences. Each villa houses a bedroom, outdoor bathroom and rooftop with pool. Additional on-site offerings include a dining pergola, a hammam, a stargazing platform and two swimming pools. “Water is an element that runs through the gardens, creating pools, ponds, cascading showers and a mystical spa,” says Alberto.

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With a sweep of the eye across these structures, it’s possible to conceive how aliens might regard our shelters. Terrestre’s forms are comparable with ancient ruins yet simultaneously appear futuristic. “A certain notion of antiquity, but also of futurism, characterises the architecture,”says Alberto.“Powered fully by solar energy, it plays with the sun and the wind.” The extent to which the structures are sustainable seems concurrently primal and forward-thinking. Alberto’s eco strategies include solar panels (“We gradually understood how many panels and batteries we needed”) and passive cooling (“We’ve replaced air conditioning with slatted shutters and fans”). He explains how solar-heated water is distributed to the rooms from an elevated tank; how motion sensors trigger interior lighting to minimise power consumption; how using locally sourced natural materials aids sustainability. “Clay, sand, mud brick that’s sand-coloured and handmade in Puebla, and Oaxaca’s native maqui wood were all used,” he says.

That the hotel runs on circadian rhythms acknowledges a primal time when man, nature and architecture interacted harmoniously. But it also proposes this “throwback” as a considered take on contemporary luxury – a sanctuary rich in opportunities to disconnect from technology, and connect with nature and oneself.

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