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World's end hotel: This hotel in remote Patagonia treads thoughtfully and lightly in stunning landscape.

This is the third in a series of remarkable hotels in remote locations by Chilean architect German del Sol. At the tapering tip of South America lies Patagonia, the 'uttermost part of the earth', a harshly beautiful terrain of mountains, fjords, glaciers and grassy plains. Del Sol built his first hotel here and then headed to Chile's northern extremity to repeat the feat in the Atacama desert (AR February 1999). Now he has returned to Patagonia, to the fishing village of Puerto Natales on the edge of the Torres del Paine National Park. Like its predecessors, this latest hotel is conceived as an elegant, hospitable haven offering travellers and jaded urbanites scope to experience the intensity of nature, but it is far removed from the anodyne torpor of the typical luxury bolthole. Instead, del Sol responds to the nuances of place and history and reinterprets them in a recognisably contemporary language, so clearly rooting his architecture in its surroundings.

Here his inspiration is the region's robustly functional farm buildings that sporadically pepper the landscape. Since its introduction in the 1870s, sheep rearing has been a profitable staple of the Patagonian economy, spawning a rich vernacular of outhouses and barns (for storing and drying sheepskins) along with shepherd's bothies, stables, kennels and estancias. Of this built culture, del Sol says 'Latin America has an ancient tradition of works of architecture that stand in the midst of nature just to bring signs of life to places, where shepherds or merchants used to pass or to stay by night, or where people gather once in a while to celebrate once again their ancient rites'.

The new hotel is that reassuring sign of life in the vastness of nature. From a distance, it appears as a series of black barns humped in the landscape, their bunker-like impassiveness suggesting an archaeological or topographic connection with site. The concrete structure of each 'barn' is clad in insulated plywood panels finished with an asphalt membrane to protect against the corrosive effects of rain and wind. An external coating of black gravel gives the structures a brooding, monolithic quality that recalls the basalt strata of the Torres del Paine massif. After dark, soft yellow light oozes from angular slashes of glazing gouged into the buildings' inky flanks. In the yawning emptiness of the Patagonian plains the winking lights are a beacon of welcome, celebrating human presence.

The hotel comprises a pair of discrete, elongated guest wings (with 72 bedrooms) and a services building that houses spaces for dining, entertainment and administration. A small sauna and pool block completes the composition. The effect is to break down what could have been an imposing mass into more manageable, humanly scaled elements. Forming three sides of a rough square, the main building and bedroom wings enclose a large open courtyard. The arrangement recalls the earlier Atacama project, but where the desert situation called for a hard, tree-planted courtyard edged with a deep veranda, here the central space is simply grassed over and strewn with a handful of boulders. Del Sol sees it as a distillation of the wildness and emptiness of the surrounding landscape, a kind of Patagonian Zen garden at the heart of the hotel. The various parts are connected by covered timber walkways, so guests are exposed to the elements as they move around the complex.

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The main building is structured around a two pronged plan (a bit like a clothes peg), that winds up and around the slightly sloping site. This creates two sorts of spaces for front and back-of-house functions. The principal prong, addressing the central courtyard, contains generous lounge areas and the entrance hall, while the secondary prong, facing away from the courtyard, is devoted to administration and staff accommodation. At the building's north-west end (the equivalent of south-east orientation in the northern hemisphere), the point of their intersection is marked by a two-storey fulcrum of dining room, bar and kitchen at lower level, with a conservatory, music room and exhibition area above. A mezzanine reading room is hoisted over the lounge so that guests can retreat, yet still feel connected to hotel life.

With its labyrinth of ramps, stairs and changes of levels, the building is, in some ways, an abstraction of the landscape. More explicitly, the roof is carpeted in Patagonian wild grasses, and the decidedly rustic furniture was crafted by local carpenters from large pieces of dead lenga wood scavenged from the forests that thrive in the region's lowlands. The dark wood is counterpointed by boldly coloured native textiles which are animated by the changing light. Targeted at the luxe end of the market, Remota is, undoubtedly, a well-appointed vantage point from which to contemplate and experience the natural world, yet German del Sol's ecologically responsive architecture is a sensitive mediation between man and nature that treads thoughtfully and lightly in this awesome wilderness at the southern ends of the earth.

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Article Details
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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:3CHIL
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:846
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