Page D1.1 . 03 October 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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High Desert Modern

by Sophie Arie

The Atacama Desert, in northern Chile, is one of the driest deserts on earth. It is a startlingly brutal place where boiling geysers burst through mountain plains caked in salt, and jagged red rocks give way to massive sand dunes and desolate open salt flats. Extreme temperatures jolt your body and dry up your eyes and skin while dust fills your clothes.

Yet Atacama is also a soothing place for its still, open spaces, its strings of snow-capped volcanoes that speak of millions of years of history, its clear night skies, and pervasive silence.

A precious exception to the dryness is the oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, in the heart of the Andean moonscape that spreads north over Chile's border into Peru.

Here, the ultra-modern, first-class Explora Hotel, designed by one of Chile's leading architects, German del Sol, is a feat of Spartan but sensual design and a sanctuary where travelers can take refuge from the onslaught of the climate and savor the serenity of the place.

The hotel, which is tucked amid trees in a 42-acre (17-hectare) estate and almost invisible from nearby San Pedro, was built in 1998. Its philosophy of "ecolux" tourism, which aims to make it possible to "inhabit the remote" and "reveal its mystery without solving it," is controversial. The hotel has been criticized as elitist and ecologically unfriendly. Architecturally though, it is clever but simple, modern but soaked in tradition, and deeply spiritual.



ArchWeek Image

Courtyard of the Explora Hotel, designed by Chilean architect, German del Sol.
Photo: Guy Wemborne

ArchWeek Image

Terrace of the Explora Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Photo: Guy Wemborne


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