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Every year, millions of vacationers escape their daily routines to find peace and relaxation in tropical locations that differ from the worlds they come from. Vacations are becoming more elaborate and the list of destinations is continually being enlarged as the availability of air travel reaches more and more places. Yet as commercialism enters these regions and investors begin cornering the market, the essence of these once exotic locations seems to get overlooked and in time, ultimately forgotten. Places that once consisted of straw huts and bamboo bungalows are now being confronted with crude, insensitive designs that neglect the landscape and the fundamental principles that aided in the development of these regions. The same style of hotel found along the interstate can now be seen along some of the best beaches around the world, forcing me to wonder if their design has solely been dictated by the size of the building and the speed in which it can be constructed.
In order to preserve the landscape and the cultural diversity that is so dynamic in these exotic locations, it is imperative to design accommodations so that in themselves, they showcase the wonder of the region and create a harmonic balance between culture and architecture. This project aims to investigate the cultural influences that dictate the design of resorts in order to improve the impact they have on their communities and the people who use them. Every hotel has the opportunity to enlighten the public by allowing them to experience more than just a bed and breakfast but rather the lifestyles of another culture. Every aspect of the property can be utilized through materials and symbolic forms to further express how the local societies grew and functioned. A resort can be more than a destination. It can be a cultural experience.
The island of Oahu in Hawaii is home to the most popular beach in the world, Waikiki Beach. The region is known around the world and people flock to this site year round to be engrossed in the Hawaiian culture. However, the main complaint from people who choose to visit Waikiki Beach is that the area lacks character. The beach has lost all forms of cultural connection making if feel as though you could be anywhere in the world, or better yet, no where in particular. Despite the amble possibilities that are available to hotels, many of them neglect to truly engage with the site and ultimately brand their plot with their standard design. The hotel branding along the beach has resulted in over 20 different hotels all aiming to outdo their neighbors. The height of the towers increases. The number of rooms doubles. The essence of the island is forgotten. Commercialism has taken over and turned this once exotic getaway into a congested, overcrowded assortment of mediocrity.
One of the specific hotels located along Waikiki Beach is the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort and Spa. The Hilton name is synonymous with high class hotels that can be found in almost every major city around the world. In fact, they claim to have over 500 different hotels, resorts and spas currently in operation. Yet, due to their name recognition and popularity, they are able to continually build mammoth hotels that solely aim to house the masses and not address the needs of the community or deal with how their accommodations affect the culture of the region. The Hilton Hawaiian Village proudly boasts of its 22-acre site, five different hotel towers, five pools, twenty-two different restaurants and lounges, and the fact that you never have to leave the hotel property throughout your stay. With over twenty different room options at prices from $250 a night all the way to $3,000 per night, the Hilton has tried to provide something for everyone. However, I feel that the experience of staying at a Hilton is similar in New York, Chicago, Omaha, and Honolulu. All that changes is the view.
Even though there are many resorts that fall short of succeeding in providing their guests with luxury and an authentic cultural experience, there are a few that succeed. Las Ventanas is a Ty Warner owned property that was designer a few years ago by HKS in Dallas. It is located in Los Cabos, Mexico, on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. The resort is reminiscent of the grand baciendas of Old Mexico and aimed at providing their guests with centuries of tradition in every room, hall way, lobby and gathering space. Las Ventanas used materials and forms that cohered to the context of the Baja Peninsula, showcasing the regions quality without forcing a Ty Warner branded building on the site. The quality of the spaces and the uniqueness of the resort has made Las Ventanas one of the most popular hotel destinations in Mexico.
Another successful resort is the Bora Bora Pearl Resort in French Polynesia. This resort is much smaller than many of the big name resorts found on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Instead of relying on name recognition, this hotel makes a name for itself by the uniqueness of its accommodations offered to its guests. Over water bungalows span into the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean. The bungalows are covered with straw, elevated by wooden pilotis and are open to the cool breeze of the crystal blue waters below. The Pearl Resort takes people away from their daily lives and provides them with a world completely different from anything relating to their home. People return from Bora Bora feeling as though they have just experienced a completely different world in a setting which has been able to resist the commercialization around them.
The specific site for this project has been well defined but not physically determined. The program requires an exotic location with a strong cultural influence. It should also be a place where commercialism has overwhelmed the community. A proposed area for investigation is in the state of Hawaii; more specifically, the Island of Kauai. Hawaii is one of the most popular island chains in the world; with that popularity comes an onrush of tourism that needs to be temporarily housed. The island of Kauai is just west of Oahu and has been able resist the tropical exploitation that has corroded many of the world’s beaches. The island is 90% uninhabited and annually receives the highest lever of rainfall in the world. However, as Waikiki Beach has become overcrowded, more and more people are resorting to Kauai. This island offers the opportunity to set the architectural standard for resorts to follow in years to come.
Kauai is known among the Hawaiian Islands as being the outdoorsman island because of the abundance of different activities available in the area. The Na Pali coastline along the northwest rim of the island is one of the most sought after hiking destinations in the world. People apply for camping permits up to a year in advance and spend weeks in the mountains that are only accessible by boat, foot and helicopters. Other activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, sea and river kayaking, and many others. This location has much to offer its guests in terms of physical activities, cultural heritage and tropical landscapes.
M.Arch Thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, May 2007