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Dar HI Eco-Lodge

Matali Crasset

Dar HI Eco-Lodge
By Phyllis Richardson -

Tourism in the desert is always going to inspire conflicting attitudes, those encouraging the boon to local economies versus those decrying the use of scarce resources for luxury retreats. Paris-based designer Matali Crasset’s first foray into architecture seeks to find a balance. Some might say this is a daring project, perched as it is on the edge of the Sahara and aiming to use only local materials, labour and produce to serve guests who may arrive from all parts of the globe to experience a taste of life in a Tunisian village, or just a period of relaxation disconnected from the sights and sounds of western urbanism. But for the team behind it, there was never any question that this was going to be a different kind of hotel.
After their successful collaboration on the Hi Hotel in Nice in 2003, Matali Crasset and hoteliers Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chapelet were keen to embark on another scheme together. All are eager to point out, however, that the Dar HI is not a replication of the Nice project, rather, it is an entirely new concept, “articulated around the ideas of wellbeing, an eco-retreat in a place that is unexpected, magical”. Looking at the finished building, it is easy to see how Crasset sought to harmonize her own creative instincts with the desert vernacular. This is not a single, monolithic block of luxury dropped onto the sand dunes, but a collection of seventeen “pilotis” structures gathered within a boundary wall, the huddle of shapes recalling the domed extrusions of a mosque perhaps. The pilotis are in fact more rectilinear than domelike, but with the corners shaved to soften the lines against the landscape. The design fulfils the aim of being both “a contemporary retreat” and one that offers a much deeper connection to the local culture than the sprawling resorts that line the Tunisian coast, being the result of a collaboration with local artisans and very conscious of its environmental impact. In Matali Crasset’s description the...

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