New retreats—in Brazil, Switzerland and Sweden—whose architects have gone outrageously organic with their designs.
By guest author Paige Darrah from the Wall Street Journal.
HOTEL DEVELOPERS are, increasingly, enlisting famous architects and letting them produce designs that bear more resemblance to installation art than to their boxy brethren. French entrepreneur Alexandre Allard hired Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel to transform an old hospital compound in Brazil’s largest city into a luxury hotel. “I called up one of the guys who designed Paris’ Institut du Monde Arabe and said, ‘Jean, we have to create something crazy that will stand out as an architectural symbol in São Paulo’s sea of otherwise banal concrete high-rises,’” said Mr. Allard, whose vertical forest hotel, the Rosewood São Paulo, is slated to fully open this summer. Mr. Nouvel isn’t the only architect whose tastes are running woodsy. Modern treehouse cabins are sprouting in the Scandinavian hinterland, and the roof of a new Swiss lodge is designed to double as a walking trail. Here, we talk to the architects about their natural impulses.
A Leafier São Paulo
When designing the new tower for Rosewood São Paulo, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel reckoned that part of the Bela Vista neighborhood around Avenida Paulista was lacking in two things: terraces and trees. “I wanted to use vegetation as an architectural material, ensuring it invaded the guest rooms,” said Mr. Nouvel. Fourteen robust species were recruited from Brazil’s Mata Atlântica rainforest, but concerns mounted that São Paulo’s gusty winds might wreak havoc with a vertical forest. “The difficulty wasn’t displaying these 40- and 50-foot-tall trees,” the architect said, but in re-planting them onto the building so that they could prosper. Myriad engineers were engaged to consult with an indigenous Tupi Guarianí tribe chief, who helped find trees that were “happy,” and then plot and test the transplanted ecosystem. The result: a 26-floor forest. Some 240 trees now line the facade. Pink trumpets and violet-flowering jacarandas traverse several floors, and poke through holes in the weathered-looking steel roof so that the building resembles a chia pet.
Swiss Stranger Things
Covered in snow five months a year, Vallée de Joux, 50 minutes from Geneva, is sometimes perceived as a kind of Swiss Siberia, where multigenerational groups of watchmakers across many brands toil the winters away. In the architecturally tame village of Le Brassus (pop. 1,400), a five-story building might have stuck out. So when replacing the old Hôtel des Horlogers with a much larger structure, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm set out to make it blend in. “The idea was to embed the five floors in such a way that they cascade with the landscape and only really appear to be one or two floors,” said Mr. Ingels. Mission accomplished. Each of the hotel’s 56 rooms now open onto the zigzagging roof, showing off views of fir trees and errant herds of cows. As for the roof itself, Mr. Ingels says it’s meant to have a serpentine look as it climbs the hill. Once grass is laid down, it will function as a faux hiking trail. Indoors, several upside-down trees adhered to the lobby’s ceiling give it a decidedly “Stranger Things” vibe.
Cabins With Glass Ceilings
Atop a little hill in southern Sweden, deep in the Småland region’s highlands, architect Gert Wingårdh built Trakt Forest Hotel slated to open this summer. Trakt is only the second treehouse hotel in Sweden, which is somewhat surprising given the country’s traditions. According to Mr. Wingårdh, who built his first treehouse circa 1959, most Swedish children construct a small cottage in a tree at some point. Mr. Wingårdh’s father worked at a quarry, which meant easy access to interesting materials. “We made mine out of these wooden boxes with the word ‘explosives’ printed on them.” Trakt is less rudimentary. All five accommodations are elevated on thin pillars of lacquered steel. From afar, they appear to be floating in a circle. Inside each cabin, 7-foot windows serve as ceilings, so the forest dweller can lay on the bed and gaze up at the swaying canopy, as a child would.
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