After catching my breath from my exhausting half -mile bike ride, I kept rolling down a dusty path to a visit some of the hotels near town. The Explora Hotel, locally known as the Hotel de Larache and Hotel Tierra Atacama. Hotel de Larache was designed by German del Sol [pronounced "Herman"] and Jose Cruz, with Tierra Atacama being done by Rodrigo Searle and Matias Gonzalez. I had a tour scheduled with the general manager of Larache, an extremely knowledgable and passionate Chilean named Maurice Dides. As we walked through the alfalfa fields that surround Larache, Maurice outlined the philosophy of the hotel and how it related back to the architecture that houses it. The Explora philosophy, as described on the website is:
"explora was founded to encourage a new way of travel in the remote regions of the Southern tip of South America. We love nature and enjoy liberty, we suggest a philosophy of travel born out of the desire to explore the natural and cultural environment of the remote. "
This means that explora is thought of as one giant "base camp," with monastic rooms and a minimum 3 night stay to make sure guests participate in trekking and outdoor adventures. The hotel was designed originally to allow horses to access the interior pathways, further blurring the spatial separation between outside and inside as well as refined and rustic. Though you can't find hoof prints in the hallway now, the fixtures of the doors to the main spaces are made with hardware from the stables. Which was another interesting feature of the hotel, the entry actually comes through the stable area. When I arrived, at first I thought I had the wrong place, being lost in a small maze of aromatic horse stables and cobbled paths with no sign to guide my wanderings. It wasn't until a surly Chilean with a cowboy hat took pity on me and guided me to the main lobby that I found my way.
Hotel de Larache's landscape falls somewhere between the beauty of a well maintained farmland, and an overgrown trail that runs through a forest. The alfalfa fields that make up the majority of the area are partitioned off by thick chest high adobe walls to allow the horses to graze in different parts of the property. The landscape is flooded every 17 days when the hotel gets its allotted 20 hours of water, and the horses are rotated to prevent over-grazing. The small rooms look out onto this functional frontier instead of the normally sterile maintained landscape of most hotels.
The rooms are shielded from the hot summer sun by the use of a metal roof that acts as a heat shield, separated from the building underneath to provide an air gap. With this low-tech idea, the hotel does not have any need for central heating or cooling, even though in the middle of the desert.
Though most of the hotel falls under the rustic rough and tough, there are still a few points where you get back to more of the glamorous life associated with a high price tag. There are a series of pools and saunas in the back accessed by a heavy wooden walkway. Though even these seemingly superfluous containers of water have a function. In the case of a fire, the pools serve as an emergency water source, being drained if the need arises.
The other hotel I visited was the Hotel Tierra Atacama. The two proved to be an interesting comparison, as Tierra treated its connection with the landscape in a decidedly different manner. Where as Explora's line separating the building and surrounding is blurred and tugged apart, Tierra is distinct, with the property gazing out longingly over the austere desert. Instead of a fractured form, it is controlled and made predominantly of right angles and 20 degree slopes [+/-].
I didn't have a tour guide at Tierra, but luckily they didn't mind that a gringo went wandering around peering into people's windows. Fortunately for me, most all of the guests were away for the day hiking, horseback riding, or taking shots at one of the local bars. So that meant I was free to explore the extent of the property as long as I didn't get caught jiggling door handles. First on the list was heading out to the large acreage of property owned by the hotel. The walkways don't meander, they pierce the horizon, hovering over the semi soaked fields without visually touching. A striking contrast to the solid heavy walls defining the pathways at Larache.
The Hotel is probably most well known for the corten steel boxes that dot its interior. Their taut metal skins' stretched across, shrink-wrapping the boxes beneath. Their precision is perfect, everything lines up and is ordered. But in their accuracy of measurement something seems to be lost. I've been realizing more and more what draws me to many of the places I've been is the connection with the human hand. If you're a thoroughly unabashed modernist like myself, you strive to make sure everything lines up, has an order, nothing left to chance or chaos. That last statement was a gross generality and not at all accurate, but the fact remains that many times in the quest for refinement, a soul gets left behind. I've found more and more that slippages are a thing to be exploited, not contained. The rough marks left on concrete after form work is taken off showing the signs of making, the splinters left unsanded on a piece of wood, or the unevenness left in the adobe brick even by skilled masons. These are things of celebration I feel, the pressure for perfection is possible to be washed away by the acceptance once again of the calloused hand of the construction worker. Character, the hardest thing to define and even more difficult to achieve, can be gained from the logical process of making.
Never blog after a few glasses of wine, you get all worked up and off topic. What I was attempting to say in not so many words was that in the projects I've researched so far, one of the commonalities has been their lack of perfection in construction. Whether that is because of their separation from refined tools, the unskilled labor often times used, or the blinding sun throwing off measurements is up for debate. But the fact remains that I believe it to be an advantage, not a detriment in most of the cases I've witnessed. God I hope this doesn't lead to a rash of slipshod construction.