Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise

A rendering of proposed new condos at the Bacara Resort, designed by John Pawson, which were rejected by the Goleta Design review board.
Courtesy Santa Barabara Independent

Santa Barbara’s omnipresent Mission aesthetic is about to be tested to the extreme. British architect John Pawson, known for favoring rich materials and stringent lines, put forth a proposal to build a modern addition to the upscale Bacara Resort and Spa just west of the city in the small town of Goleta, unleashing a conflagration in the process.

Residents and several members of the Goleta Design Review Board complained at a presentation of Pawsons’ conceptual designs on January 27 that it clashes with the area’s historic look, is much too large, and pushes the public away from the area’s popular Haskell’s Beach. Pawson is due to return with a revised proposal by the end of March

Bacara, a Mediterranean-style beachside complex, contains about 360 rooms and suites as well as two golf courses, a 42,000-square-foot spa, and a 1,000-acre ranch.  Pawson’s roughly 200,000-square-foot plan, which would add 56 condo-hotel rooms, would be composed of 10 two- and three-story buildings arranged in a crescent pattern, unified by long, sleek white balconies and dark inset windows. Building materials would include rustic stone, ashlar-bonded limestone, and pale bronze.

The proposal also calls for green roofs and rooftop photovoltaic installations. Rooms range from 2,300 to 2,990 square feet, and reach up to 35 feet tall—although “international style” horizontality was one of the board’s complaints about the project. The development would go up on the site of a public parking lot, tennis courts, and a path to Haskell’s Beach, which, according to the resort’s proposal to the review board, would be “relocated.”

“With all due respect, I really don’t think this style fits this site,” board vice chairman Thomas Smith told Pawson at the meeting. Another design review board member, Carl Schneider, added, “This is kind of an international style, and I’m not sure this is the right place for that,” according to a report in The Santa Barbara Independent. Neighbors at the meeting seemed most upset by the possible limit to beach access, adding that the resort has tried for years to put up barriers between itself and the public.

The project has been planned, at least on paper, since Bacara’s preliminary development plan was approved in 1985, paving the way for the resort’s present buildings. This second phase is known as the “completion phase.” Reached by telephone, Pawson told AN he had been working hard on the project for over a year.

“They said it contrasts too much with the nature of the area, many of the trees are tall but the beach has high bluffs and some low dunes with boulders and a lot of washed-up driftwood.  Our first go-round was horizontal and, of course, I liked it,” he said, “but my way is to listen to what people have to say. It’s not in my nature to take a stubborn stance. At the end of the day, you want people to like what you’ve done, even if you can’t believe everyone.”