Gateway to the ocean
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2016)
Dazzling light reflecting on the ocean, with nothing but endless blue all the way to the horizon. A gentle swell subtly hints at the power of the currents – a crass contrast to the rigid desert landscape of the coast. Here, the sun bears down on the radiantly-white building structures that appear to be floating on the water as they are surrounded by large pools that merge into the ocean.
The Mar Adentro Hotel in San José del Cabo lies at the southern tip of the Mexican Baja California peninsula. Here, the barren desert landscape collides with the dark blue Pacific, forming the breath-taking coastline. While San José del Cabo is a tranquil Mexican village, it is close to the lively holiday paradise of Cabo San Lucas with its many conventional hotels and all-inclusive resorts. With the futuristic Mar Adentro Hotel, Mexican architect Miguel Angel Aragonés has created something of an enclave that forms its own universe removed from the rest of its surroundings.
But it is not just the grandiose construction of the hotel and the amazing landscape that make this hotel so special. It was constructed by the Italian company Poliform – one of the world’s leading producers and developers of contemporary furniture – entirely in modular form and delivered to Mexico in parts. On site, local craftsmen and artists put the modules together, creating a dream in white and blue where the water flows from the ocean directly into the heart of the resort.
We spoke to Miguel Angel Aragonés about his vision for this extraordinary project.
What was your first impression when you visited the property of the hotel on the coast of Los Cabos?
The first time I visited this property and took in the desert and the diaphanous, clear water running along a horizontal line in the background, I felt the enormous drive of water under a scorching sun. This piece of land, located in the middle of a coastline dotted with ‘all-inclusive’ hotels, would have to be transformed into a box that contained its own sea – practically its own air –, given the happy circumstance that the universe had created a desert joined to the sea along a horizontal line. It was the purest, most minimalist landscape a horizon could have drawn. On either side, this dreamlike scenery collided with what humans consider to be aesthetic and build and baptise as architecture. I wanted to draw my own version, apart from the rest.
I heard that you always use human scale for your designs – no matter what size of building. Why?
I have always wondered why airport buildings have such incredible dimensions, with such vast ceiling heights. As if the aeroplanes also need to fit inside. I believe this is down to architecture being influenced by power. Monarchs have always wanted grand halls to display their power. But ultimately we all leave the world with nothing, and a corridor with the same width is all we need.
What was the first step when coming up with the creative design for Mar Adentro?
I believe the greatest advantage of architecture lies in creating something impressive through space. I create something spectacular if I can meld with my surroundings – and this becomes part of my own space. With this in mind, I wanted to bring the horizon into the foreground. Water had to be omnipresent, and each room opens up to the ocean, with the rear facing the town – so, basically towards the remaining surroundings. I wanted to create a kind of Medina that faces the ocean. Each building in turn has its own floating components, forming its own universe. With this, each room has a piece of ocean, always drawing the eye towards it.
The challenge was to achieve the greatest possible visual and physical contact with the ocean. This is precisely why people come to Cabos – they want to experience the contrast between desert and ocean, one of the greatest benefits that this landscape offers. The challenge for us architects is to not be boring, to be witty and simultaneously remain serious and not trite. Good architecture brings a smile to your face, while bad architecture makes us laugh out loud.
Were you influenced by someone or something? Maybe other architectural styles, the landscape or the history of Los Cabos or something like that?
Nobody is able to reinvent the wheel, there is always a conscious or subconscious reference to something. Even the work of all those architects I know and find interesting. All musicians are influenced by the past. Influence is the understanding we have of, and for, each other and absorb throughout our lives.
Each room of the Mar Adentro was built by the Italian company Poliform and then shipped to the location. Please tell us more about this ‘modular technique’.
Poliform was the key here. We built the entire interior structure and sent it in boxes across the sea to its destination where it was assembled on site by local hands. In a question of days, the first room was ready, of a quality subject to the tyranny of a machine and the wisdom of hands dedicated to construction over the course of a lifetime. There was no room for improvisation, and yet the room was fashioned with intelligence, imagination, and dedication. I learned from
these German and Italian manufacturers what we sometimes fail to intuit from schools or books over the course of many years.
What are the advantages of building a hotel using a modular technique?
Our project can be constructed entirely through this process, employing a module whose versatility allows it to be divided or added onto, thus becoming autonomous or dependent on another structure. Our main module, for example, is a kind of loft divided in half in order to create two rooms, as simple as that. In summary, the module is a two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartment; an entire house can be formed by adding on two or four more modules. The most important thing is the versatility of this structure, one that can be entirely factory-made, then raised on site in an environmentally friendly manner.
The versatility of modular construction is undisputed – but what about ‘creative improvisation’?
I do not believe in genius and even less in improvisation. Einstein was no genius, he was just stubborn, imaginative and consistent – but above all, he believed in the perfection of the universe and tried to encode it through an equation to which he devoted a lifetime.
The buildings of Mar Adentro are very clean and strictly geometrical. But then in the middle of the hotel, we have the unusual and very organic form of the ‘Nido’ nest. What is the purpose of this contrast?
It is the counter pole that actually completes the stringency of the shapes and the brilliance of the water. Furthermore, it allows wind to pass through it, which is advantageous in the event of hurricanes, while also offering shade for the open space here. The nest is easy to construct using the trunks and branches of indigenous trees, and its structure is extremely solid and present. It opens up a passageway, a path allowing us to discover more. This was also necessary to make this large central space an architectural and structural element.
Light is one of the most important aspects of design. How important is light for your work in architecture?
I have always used architecture as a vessel for light and wanted to see it in conjunction with space and form. I worked with Gustavo Avilés a while ago, a phenomenal explorer of light. If form is an obligation for the architect and his or her project, then light is an even greater obligation.
You said that you felt for a long time that construction has failed to evolve on a par with other endeavours. What exactly do you mean by that?
We are still at the very beginning of this evolution. The automobile, for example, went from being a cart to what we know today in a hundred years. And yet, when we look back at the pavilion designed by Mies van der Rohe, it is in essence very similar to what we see today in architecture, albeit transgressed a bit perhaps through involution. We see unnecessarily complicated but relatively non-complex structures scattered around the world. There are some daring proposals that form part of the current panorama we refer to as modern or contemporary, but they have not been very evolutionary.
What do you think is needed to take the evolution of construction to the next step?
I have no idea, but I would love to. However, I currently believe that pre-fabricated construction is a mandatory topic that we have to address. But, to an even greater extent, so is simplification – particularly with regards to progress. For me, Joseph Albers and Malevich have identified some of the simplicity we need, and the result is undoubtedly progress. Not only in art but also in the conception of aesthetics, science and technology – simplicity is essential in all forms of work. To be honest, I do not think we know what actually moves the world. Those who invented television and radio, have really created art – actually producing the previously non-existent. We have to involve in our process people who are obsessed with perfection and their ideas of how the world can progress – and the world actually only progresses because these people exist. Today, two things are essential for this evolution: pre-fabrication and design simplicity.
What is your next project?
I would like to build a village but a village for people who truly know what this concept or this idea actually means. We need to create a village for people who contemplate this and can find peace in this place. I believe that building a village like this would be something completely different. It must have no commercial structures, no religion, no ethics, no social foundation – merely an intellectual basis. I hope to discover whether, within this context, this is idealistic and maybe even utopian, because this could become a benchmark for a form of architecture in the non-traditional sense.
MIGUEL ANGEL ARAGONÉS
Miguel Angel Aragonés was born in Mexico City on November 16, 1962. He is self-taught and has been working as an architect for more than 30 years. He started his career in architecture at the age of 20, at the time developing a dignified, aesthetic model for the at the time rapidly growing social housing sector in Mexico City. This was followed by countless residential and hotel construction projects. In addition to this, Aragonés is also a lecturer at Mexico’s universities and architecture academies.
Picture credits © Joe Fletcher