Architects Marwan Al-Sayed, Wendell Burnette, and Rick Joy collaborate on a luxe camplike setting.
You move through what looks like a lunar landscape of looming buttes, mesas, and other mighty rock formations undulating in all shapes. Rounding a bend, you see what appears to be a mirage, a razor-sharp rectangular pavilion made of polished concrete, out of which two wings project, sitting low on the desert — a minimally invasive insertion. You have arrived at Amangiri Resort in Canyon Point, Utah.
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More than 10 years ago, a group of investors, Canyon Equity in Larkspur, California, purchased a vast swath of harsh but austerely beautiful desert in a remote area of Utah just north of the Arizona border. On part of it they envisioned a resort of 600 acres that would make the most of the rocky site, and enlisted three inventive Arizona architects to collaborate on the design — Marwan Al-Sayed, Wendell Burnette, AIA, and Rick Joy, AIA. For this particular project, the trio of friends formed a company, I-10 Studio, named after the freeway that connects their offices in Phoenix and Tucson. The investors then brought in Adrian Zecha, the Indonesian-Czech founder of Amanresorts, to manage the new hotel. The luxe Minimalism of Zecha’s 23 caravansaries, located largely in Asia, has made him legendary. While he quickly saw the potential in the Utah development, Zecha wanted to move the resort to a different site from the one selected. Since it was partially owned by the federal government, a complicated land swap was needed. After almost two years and an act of Congress, construction began.
In order for the I-10 Studio to design the 78,400-square-foot resort with 34 very private rooms and a spa, the three principals had to do some homework. While Zecha knew that the architects were familiar with the Southwest region, he wanted to make sure they were aware of the special qualities of the Aman hotels — and the expectations of their guests. So the team was assigned to visit the heralded resorts in Thailand, Bali, Java, and Morocco.
At the Utah site, a 150-foot-high rock appealed to Zecha as the focus of the compound. The architects made this the hub of the design, surrounding one of the rock’s protrusions with the main swimming pool, which they edged with a sandstone and concrete piazza, enclosed by the reception, dining, and living areas of the main pavilion. Two wings containing the guest rooms branch away from this center, with a secluded spa at the southern end of the complex.
In deference to the rugged Utah terrain, the three conceived the hotel as a “block of cast earth — a sort of massive ruin eroded by the climate and the program,” says Burnette. To blend the hotel in with the area’s Entrada sandstone, the three devised a unique concrete mix of local sand, cement, and aggregate that approximates the coloration and density of the surrounding geologic formations.
Since the hotel was so remote, the team set up a batch plant on-site and used gang forms for a monolithic-looking pour. The special plywood surface for the formwork gives the smooth concrete a highly reflective sheen.
In this polished and protected campus, each of the 34 guest suites opens up literally to the desert floor. The idea of being around a campfire (a luxurious one) generated the notion of designing the exterior edges of the bedrooms to have retractable doors that open onto a private patio equipped with gaslit fires. Obversely, the team thought the spa should be a reprieve from the landscape: Many of the spa’s rooms focus inward, with dark walnut covering walls, floors, and ceilings. “We wanted it to feel like a Navaho hogan, without overt Native American associations,” says Al-Sayed.
Similarly, interiors, furnishings, lighting, and graphics are meant to evoke the Southwest vernacular through the rarefied deployment of Minimal architectural elements and motifs. In each bedroom, for example, the trio created a sandstone plinth containing a bed, a desk, and a sofa: It is positioned so that the surface of the top of the bed is at grade with the landscape — ”the perspective of a cowboy sleeping on the ground,” says Joy.
Although the construction and design process was rather extensive — owing to the remote location, the need to import labor, and the custom nature of the design and workmanship — the hotel opened to the public last fall. For the next phase of the resort, Canyon has commissioned Annabelle Selldorf to design 30 villas that are in I-10’s master plan. Selldorf is currently building a prototype but proposes using less concrete and more stucco and wood for the construction.
At Amangiri, spareness and purity are dominant parts of the architectural gestalt. You feel as if you are camping out in an understated, luxurious setting, where you can contemplate a wild landscape from a protected and comfortable enclosure. Here everyone has a great view, with no one walking across it (or driving, since guests’ cars are stowed in a building a mile away.)
A spacious, quiet aura pervades the entire resort. Absent is the background noise (aka music) hip hotels think they need to foist on guests. Instead, isolation and austerity meet extravagance of the most refined nature.
Getting there underscores the remoteness. You can fly to the closest airport in Page, Arizona, from Phoenix or Denver, or, if time permits, land in Las Vegas and rent a car. The spectacular five-hour drive through the canyons will put you in the right mood for the rare and mesmerizing Amangiri experience.
James Reginato is a New York writer.
|View impressions of the Amangiri Resort by steelblue LLC, a visualization firm, in the video above.|
Location: Canyon Point, Kane County, Utah
Size: 78,400 sq.ft. (RESORT + SPA)
Completion date: October 2009
Owner: Canyon Equity
I-10 STUDIO, LLC
Marwan Al-Sayed Architects
4411 North 40th Street, No. 56
Phoenix, Arizona 85018
Wendell Burnette Architects
5102 North Central Avenue, 5
Phoenix, Arizona 85012
Rick Joy Architects
400 S. Rubio Avenue
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