Luxury travel has assumed a new meaning among vacationers looking to be submerged in their destinations’ natural environment. In response to a growing demand for close-to-nature vacation experiences, some progressive luxury resorts are eliminating the physical barriers between travelers and their ultimate destination: nature. These high-end resorts now offer open-air experiences that provide their elite clients with more than a beautifully appointed room, but also a tangible connection with the great outdoors.
According to the American Institute of Architects, a growing number of people crave these open-air experiences that blur the edges between indoor and outdoor living. In the second half of the 20th century, simple patios or poolside decks were all resorts had to offer travelers who wanted an authentic, outdoor vacation experience. Today, luxury resorts like Jade Mountain in St. Lucia and Four Seasons in Hawaii and Bali are meeting the demands of their sophisticated patrons by creating more elaborate outdoor extensions of their indoor living spaces, including rooms that use nature itself as the fourth wall.
Set in tropical climates, these open-air resorts employ what architects refer to as passive design techniques that increase ventilation and shading. These techniques create the cool comfort required in a luxury setting, while reducing the use of air-conditioning—making this new trend not only fashionable, but sustainable as well. The Resort at Isla Palenque, a sustainable resort community in Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui, will take full advantage of passive design techniques when they begin building their open-air homes later this year. “The principles that allowed people to live for thousands of years in hot climates are still available to designers,” says Ben Loomis, President of Amble Resorts, the development firm behind the Isla Palenque Panama real estate project. “These principles are the heart of any truly sustainable tropical development.”
Isla Palenque’s hotel and homes will have walls that fold or slide away and immense amounts of open space to create an immersion in nature experience for guests and residents alike. Loomis identifies this elusive natural connection as a luxurious amenity, and plans to raise the bar for open-air resort architecture in the resort industry. “We’re making it hard for residents to recognize when they have left their home and entered the outdoors,” says Loomis.
“One of the keys to outdoor living in a tropical climate like Panama is good ventilation,” continues Loomis. “There’s much one can do to capture natural breezes and allow them to effectively pass through buildings, which our architects are doing to every possible extent. As a luxury resort, our homes will offer air-conditioning, but with passive design methods like increased ventilation, we believe most of our residents will barely use it.”
Places like Isla Palenque, Jade Mountain, Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, and a growing number of other forward-thinking resorts use open-air rooms to create memorable trips that elevate “next-to-nature” vacations to “inside-nature” vacation experiences. In her review of Jade Mountain, Barbara A. Gallay, president of Linden Frosch, articulates the inimitable attraction of open-air resorts around the world. “Visitors don’t feel they have to dress up and look chic,” she says. “Instead, guests look around and say, ‘I’m really here, I’m in the middle of nature.’”