Earth, Wind & Ice: Hotels At One With Their Environments

A hotel can be an efficient way to educate the public about resource conervation. With hundreds of guests cycling through their rooms every day, a few signs about water use, electricity savings, linen washing routines and nontoxic cleansers can imprint green living ideas on the minds of guests. Perhaps these aptly demonstrated hotel policies will develop into similar behaviors back home.

The design of the hotel itself can also play a role in shaping public perception about the more sustainable use of energy and resources. These three boutique hotels offer some extreme examples of how building materials and innovative site plans can make them uniquely suited for their unusual environments.

The Al Deira Hotel, Palestinian Territories

Image of five-star adobe-brick hotel in Gaza via Al Deira Hotel.

Image of five-star adobe-brick hotel in Gaza via Al Deira Hotel.

The Al Deira Hotel is amazing in a couple of different ways. First, it’s a five-star luxury hotel made mostly out of ecologically friendly adobe bricks, using technology developed millennia ago. Second, the 22-room hotel is not only still standing but actually thriving for many visiting journalists despite its location in one of the most battle-scarred regions of the last 60 years: The Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Territories.

Saving energy may not be the most pressing concern of a hotel that routinely faces threats from rocket attacks and exists in one of the most poverty-stricken and overcrowded regions on earth. But the adobe materials — made with sand and clay that is baked rock-hard in the sun — act as nature’s air conditioning, providing cool temperatures for guests despite the strong Mediterranean sun.

In a recent interview with the Brownbook travel guide to the Middle East, hotel designer Rashid Abdelhamid discussed how these ancient techniques can still help today’s environment. “When I built Al Deira we sourced all materials locally,” he said. “We trained local workers to make adobe blocks, relied on local craftsmen and women to produce the tiles, furniture and lighting… I believe design can be used to honor, develop and enact principles of environmental, economic and cultural sustainability.”

Hotel Aire de Bardenas, Tudela, Spain

Image via Hotel Aire de Bardenas.

Image via Hotel Aire de Bardenas.

Though the hotel doesn’t generate its own wind power, the Hotel Aire de Bardenas is designed with the constant winds of Spain’s semi-arid Navarre region very much in mind. Nestled in a wheat field on the edge of the Bardenas Reales National Park and Biosphere Reserve, the small hotel is located near one of the most productive wind-energy sites in Europe. Most of the spartan one-story bungalows, with windows facing to the northeast to reduce solar heat gain, have sweeping views of giant spinning wind turbines on a nearby desert ridge.

The four-star hotel units are built with a modest budget, using a simple, modernist design by Emiliano López Mónica Rivera Arquitectos. The metal frame structures have walls made of prefab structured insulated panels, using foam core insulation to protest against the harsh winds and extreme summer temperatures. The entire project — including an reception building, main hall, meeting rooms, restaurant and 10 satellite structures containing the 22 individual rooms — was built in just 12 months, according to a recent Designboom article.

Window views of wind turbines and recycled wooden palette wind breaks. Image via Hotel Aire de Bardenas.

Window views of wind turbines and recycled wooden palette wind breaks. Image via Hotel Aire de Bardenas.

To allow for a more comfortable view of the fantastic scenery, the designers added a series of windbreaks made of frosted glass and portable recycled wooden palettes. The walls the separate bungalows themselves also help break up the turbulent air and provide a tranquil center courtyard area for guests to sunbathe and relax. The concrete aggregate used for the buildings’ foundations also came from a nearby rock outcrop and matches the color of the surrounding landscape.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.