Chablé is a rising line of ultra-luxury spas and resorts that has already earned multiple awards. Their winning formula is that architecture takes full advantage of its surroundings to achieve an experience that would not work in any other place.
SMA was approached to bring this hotel concept to the desert landscape of Baja California Sur, in a beach-front property just North of La Paz in Northern Mexico. Vast biological reserves make it an important destination for eco-tourism and its proximity to the United States has accelerated development in recent years.
The site, a desert landscape, offers an experience unlike any other and contains a pristine beach set between two hills that overlook the ocean. Having a combination of beach access, elevated ocean views, and direct access to a main road South to La Paz. It encompasses 64,912 sqm.
Yet, however beautiful the disposition of the site was, it presented the main challenge of the project. This is because the requirement for ocean views for each unit and relatively sparse vegetation in Chablé Sea of Cortez was seemingly at odds with the client’s program.
Of the 50 units required, the rooms are divided into 120-sqm standard rooms, 409-sqm Double Villas, and the 500-sqm Royal Villa. Alongside these, it includes a Spa and other amenities like restaurants, an Event Space, and a Boutique. This program, along with Back-of-House, Wellness Villas, and Brand residences, totals 15,767 sqm.
Our concept starting point was to be unfailing in delivering a sense of place and to intervene as respectfully as possible the gentle slope of the land. The experience of the desert landscape would be our primary mission and would dictate all subsequent steps in masterplan, architecture and interior design.
The straight-forward solution of the Masterplanning was to place half of the Room Units on each hill with uninterrupted views to the ocean, Lobby and Beachside Amenities in the valley a short distance from the beach, Back-of-House near the main road, and Spa halfway between the beach and main road as an inward-looking structure.
A series of layout studies helped to make clear that the architectural parti should be based on a branching system. Each branch is a central access path that runs parallel to the hill’s slope with rooms sitting at a 23-degree angle to it. Angles between branches are designed to be open enough so that any room has an uninterrupted visual connection with the Sea of Cortez.
Even though direct views to the ocean were provided, there were still peripheral views of other rooms, which broke the sense of privacy and isolation within nature that was sought for this project. In order to create the sense that there were no interruptions within the landscape, a gently undulating surface was devised which would integrate every room into a single folding gesture and gradually separate from and rejoin with the landscape.
“The formal solution of the building is consistent with the design philosophy we have on generating integrated systems, where the components of the project respond fluidly and are structured most simply.
In Chablé Sea of Cortez, a single constructive element is expressed as a large organic roof that forms oscillations along the volumetry, being roof, wall and access road at the same time.”
- Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro
The form was carefully designed to open towards ocean views and close to shield views into any other rooms. This is a naturalistic surface that blurs the line between landscape and architecture. It is architecture as landscape and landscape as architecture.
The technical challenge of realizing this form was not trivial. An initial proposal was for a double curvature laminated timber shell with curvature that would invert to generate the undulations required. The ultimate, alternative solution was found wherein individual concrete shells are built and joined by a frontal pergola structure that defines the undulating border curve.
Infill is used to generate the majority of the surface. The level at which each room is set is precisely calculated to cut out the amount of earth required for this infill. Finally, a gradual shift occurs between natural vegetation cover and stone and gravel cover as the landscape climbs higher over each shell.
The experience of moving through paths flanked by gentle undulations gives way to the interior design of the hotel rooms. The arrival at the room’s exterior terrace area, where a sinuous pool and deck greet the guest, offer a sense of arrival as the roof surface rises overhead and allows entry. The guest sees a back garden from the moment they enter the room and it creates a magnetic point of attraction that pulls them through the space.
The rest of the project continues this gesture of gentle unfolding. The Lobby volumes gently rise to cover a drop-off point and open up towards the ocean. The Beachside Area combines a rocky, natural materiality with sinuous curvature that leans into the sea. The Spa orchestrates winding journeys through soft interiors that define coherent experiences.
We have resolved the lack of verticality in the desert environment by relying on the horizontal to negotiate journeys and experiences, creating a seamless architecture of motion that is ever-changing, like the environment it seeks to emulate.