Jordan, Oppenheim, Wadi Rum Resort

From rocky ruins to a sustainable resort

The recently announced Wadi Resort in Wadi Rum, Jordan will be designed by USA-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design and will create 47 desert lodges and villas carved out of the rock face in the desert.

The 80,000 square feet resort is scheduled to open in 2014, and will be a sustainable and luxurious design set amongst a natural environment, including the rock lodge, spa lodge, tent lodge and reserve villa.

Chad Oppenheim, architect and founder of Oppenheim Architecture + Design, plans to make the resort ecologically sensitive and sustainable. He said the idea behind the project is to connect to the location physically, spiritually and culturally.

Oppenheim won the contract thanks to a global competition to design the resort, which is an hour and a half outside of Petra, in the ancient city of the Nebataeans.

“We want to create primitive luxury so that people can really connect to the place. I cannot emphasise that enough,” said Oppenheim.

“Hospitality has gone to a place where everything looks like everything else. Bali looks like the Middle East and vice versa. People see something and then tell their designers they want their projects to look the same way. We are trying to make something unique and expressive. We want our guests to have an experience they have never had before, something that excites them with its utmost luxury and opulence, but in a simple and elemental way,” he said.

The lodges will be carved into sandstone cliffs, using existing geological elements of the rock to control them. Other building elements will be created out of rammed earth and cement mixed with the local red sand, with the interior and exterior design being deliberately blurred.

Oppenheim said the design team will use the natural rock setting to not only create the exterior façade but parts of the interior design elements such as furniture as well.

It will incorporate sustainable design to create cross ventilation, by taking advantage of the natural cooling effect of the rocks. The resort will use passive cooling systems with the lodges, carved deep within the rock, so they will be protected in the summer using natural shading devices. It will also be closed during the hottest and coldest times of the year.

The strategic positioning of the lodges will allow minimal energy consumption. “We will use as little energy as possible. In fact, we want to only use controlled light at night and want to use natural light as much as we can,” said Oppenheim.

The resort, while high-end, will take visitors back to how the local Nebataeans lived thousands of years ago, as the resort will shun most kinds of technology. The Wadi Resort will not have wi-fi and flat screen TVs, or any technological amenities associated with luxurious hotels.

“The resort is all about amazing vistas and views into the desert, open space, with interiors made from mineral or rock elements. One of the most important features of the place is the silence of the desert. While there will be every luxury to accommodate you, like great service and incredible food, it’s more about going back and trying to understand what’s important. It’s about disconnecting from the world you come from.”

Oppenheim feels its approach to the project is unique in that it is trying to utilise local crafts and keep the resort sustainable and eco-friendly through different methods.

“This is not about making Wadi Resort look like it’s ancient. It’s about being timeless. There’s a fine line between what is kitsch and what’s new,” he said.

Oppenheim said great care has been given to utilising local materials as well as various water conservation measures for both human and site irrigation to establish a relatively closed system of harvesting rain water in subterranean cisterns and re-harvesting grey/black water though a living machine of botanical and biological nature. All systems and services used will be completely integral to the design.

The interior design will be locally biased, with craftsmen from the area given a chance to have their work featured in the resort.

“Jordan has an amazing amount of craftwork in stone and textile and more. The idea is to use the natural resources of Jordan. We want to create pieces of furniture that are localised,” he said.

Oppenheim stressed the design team did not want to import items for the resort because it was important for it to reflect the place and its crafts.

“Jordan is a small country but it’s rich with resources, so if we can get everything we need from the local communities, it’s not only sustainable in terms of ecological impact but it helps generate jobs, which would help the local economy.

“We are trying to make a low impact and use all the materials that are locally available. It’s a delicate eco system,” he added.