Wadi Rum Desert Resort
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Oppenheim Architecture & Design
Steal yourself for a weekend, sans smartphone, to a majestic landscape where luxury consists of silence and candlelight. Thus is the concept behind architect Chad Oppenheim’s Wadi Rum Desert Resort, a facility recessed entirely into sandstone monoliths in the Jordanian desert. The founder of Florida-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design hesitates to bill it as a building, dubbing it instead a “subtractive space” that defers entirely to the natural topography while creating livable environs for human beings through minimalistic sculpting of rock.
Using long-armed excavation machinery resembling a jackhammer, the 72 guest lodges were carved like geometric pockets out of the rock, some built into existing caves that were “amplified” for space. “[The guest rooms] are sculpted into these existing crevices and geometries of the rock. We formed it so that it’s as discreet as possible, hiding them in the shadows based on studies of the sun,” explained Oppenheim.
The Spartan fixtures and fittings of each guestroom, such as platforms for the beds and the hand-sculpted bathtubs, rise out of the rock à la The Flintstones. Meanwhile, the rooms feature tent-like canvas entrances to fend off blustery desert winds. Each room is separated by up to 50 feet for privacy. Made of rammed earth and cement mixed with local red sands, the structural walls and supports are nearly indistinguishable from the rock.
The facility relies on natural ventilation of the stonework configurations rather than synthetic climate control, and even fires are eschewed in favor of fur blankets to keep warm at night. “The resort is open mostly in the temperate times. The environment is quite pleasant eight out of 12 months, so it wouldn’t be open in the heat of summer or the depth of winter,” said Oppenheim. “It’s more about the luxury of isolation, of a sky without sound, without light.” While the resort has zero electrical lighting, it is outfitted with requisite 5-star luxury facilities, such as restaurants and a spa that “harnesses water through very primitive channels.” But do not expect electrical outlets in the guestrooms. “The only thing we have is hot water that gets brought in through solar power,” explained Oppenheim, adding that after dark, check-ins would be greeted by candlelight.
However, the cliff-face architecture is confronting a crag of its own. Initially slated for completion in 2014, construction was halted by tribal tensions after the Arab Spring. “Essentially the land was obtained from the tribal groups and the government of Jordan and then tribal groups wanted to re-trade the deal years later,” said Oppenheim. When queried about a new completion date, Oppenheim responded: “That’s a good question.”