Amangiri, located on a spectacular 600+ acre site in southern Utah, is a design collaboration with architects Rick Joy, Marwan Al-Sayed and Wendell Burnett. Together they created a bold yet responsive settlement that both honours and celebrates the magic and mystery of southern Utah’s majestic cliffs and rock formations, as well as the region’s ancient Navajo heritage. The aim was to build something that was a contemporary interpretation of native Indian architecture. Not perfectly adapted, but hopefully generating a sense and spirit of it. Also, that it would respect the natural environment. This was the most important aspect of the whole development.
Based on a deep understanding of the Desert Southwest, the brief was to create a place of authentic experience, not one based on simplistic cultural appropriations, but rather on what was most true to this particular site and place – namely the landscape and the light that envelops it.
The 34-room resort is situated against a low entrada sandstone rock formation, rather like an ancient settlement. From every room guests can appreciate the rawness and pure natural beauty of the surrounding mesas and the region’s mesmerising light play throughout the day. Beyond the clearly defined line of the resort there is nothing but the pristine terrain within which Amangiri is set.
The focus of the resort is the Pavilion which houses the Living Room, Dining Room, Library and Gallery, and the spectacular swimming pool, which wraps around a natural rock escarpment. Here the basic elements of this landscape are juxtaposed and emphasised: water, rock and sky. The buildings are designed with angular minimalism, simple concrete blocks carved by program, movement and light: Frozen, timeless mass is rendered as abstract geology, with colours that blend effortlessly into the shifting landscape of sand, sage and rock.
Leading from the Pavilion and main swimming pool are two separate wings that bend and fold against the rock. The Desert Wing to the east of the Pavilion is composed of 16 suites that are reached via an external walled lane. Designed as an abstraction of a slot canyon, the lane is replete with the natural sound of water and the moisture of verdant moss. The Mesa Wing to the south features 18 suites, unfolding across the desert sand and undulating rock formations.
Suites are entered via rock archways, reminiscent of the region’s spectacular slot canyons, and private screened courtyards. From the courtyards, the suites unfold, affording guests breathtaking framed views of the surrounding desert scenery. A raised stone island in the centre of each suite incorporates a bed, desk and sofa. Outside, a private desert lounge provides additional lounging benches around a private fire pit, capturing a sense of camping under the stars in a luxurious setting. The separate bathing and dressing areas are carved out of the dense stone mass that separates individual rooms. The effect is one of mystery, with green stone, filtered light and water elements contrasting with the bright light and striking views of the living and sleeping areas. Several suites are designed with private pools, as well as sky terraces featuring lounge beds for relaxing by day, or star-gazing by night. At the opposite ends of both wings are the larger Amangiri and Girijaala Suites. These offer spacious living, sleeping, dining and bathing areas, as well as generously-proportioned lap pools and extensive sky terraces.
The Aman Spa, located within the Mesa Wing, engages directly with the wonders of rock formations crafted over millennia by wind and water. Incorporating five separate pavilions and water elements, the Aman Spa is designed for intimate reflection, both inside and out. The architecture mirrors the timeless nature of the surrounding rock formations: the pavilions scattered like tumbled rocks, abstracted, and made solid or liquid, heavy or light depending on program and placement. Wet treatment areas are defined by sculpted organic form and mysterious, natural or coloured light, while dry treatment areas are defined by wood linings and serene light.
Amangiri’s interiors, from lighting and furnishings to signage, have been custom designed to blend in with the architecture and the surrounding landscape. Everything from desks, sofas, chairs and tables, to street lights and hooks have been designed to capture something unique and particular about the American Southwest, yet rendered in a thoroughly modern way. Hides and leathers, blackened and forged steel are given a modern interpretation, alluding to, yet never overdoing references to the region’s Native American people and the ranchers that continue to inhabit this particular corner of the earth.
Instrumental in giving Amangiri its defining quality of being cast or molded from the earth itself was the developing and refining of the resort’s concrete geology in situ during construction. The method of casting the concrete structures was specifically developed to make them appear as cast stone or frozen sand. The walls were cast smooth to subtly reflect the ever-changing light in the landscape as they are caressed by it. To the hand, the walls feel glassy smooth and cool to the touch, their colour and finish playing with and capturing the desert light to become simultaneously an extension of, and a gateway to, this magical landscape of stone, sand and light.