Floating on Sand
Floating on Sand
10. December 2014
For a site in the Resonant Sand Bay in the Gobi Desert near the city of Baotou in Inner Mongolia PLaT architects from Beijing designed a hotel that reflects, in plan, the shape of a lotus flower. However, the inspiration of the design developed from the idea of creating a construction on top of the moving dunes. The lightweight building with its textile roofing expresses a harmonious contrast to the natural environment.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China borders Russia and Mongolia. It is China’s third largest province with only 24 million inhabitants. The Gobi Desert is a desert of great climatic extremes, with temperatures ranging from –40 ºC in winter to +50 ºC in summer.
Many tourist destinations are located in the triangle between the cities of Baotou, Hohhot and Ordos, including the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Inner Mongolia, Wudangzhao Lamasery, the Great Wall of the Jin Dynasty, the vast Xilamuren Grassland, the picturesque region of Mount Jiufeng, Zhaojun Island and the Resonant Sand Bay.
The region is also rich in cultural histories and living traditions. Many locals for instance practise a combination of Mongolian shamanism and Chinese folk religion, worshipping at stone shrines called ovoo, which serve as sacrificial altars. These circular stone mounds are significant places in the open landscape. With the development of tourism, they need a new infrastructure to accommodate the visitors and make them accessible for touristic use.
In addition to the challenge of designing a new hotel with 385 rooms and more than 20,000 square metres of floor space amidst the moving dunes of a sand desert, the client also required a building with high visual appeal. A unique solution was required.
From 2009 onwards the team of architects and engineers investigated minimal interventions that would preserve the sensitive environment. The conclusion was to stabilise the moving sand by using zigzag steel panels in four circles, each with a five-metre height difference. The steel panels retain the highly fluid sand and stabilise three stepped platforms. The one-storey prefabricated lightweight construction for the hotel rooms are placed on top of each platform. The regular form is further enhanced by the geometric membrane structure that covers the building and which is used to collect rainwater and shade the rooms.
The design and programme allowed the repetition of the spatial units for the room clusters, which together form four stepped levels with a two-storey club-unit in the centre. The large form results in long circulation distances between the rooms and the service facilities. Another challenge for the guests is finding their orientation within the circular building. Satellite units for the lobby, restaurant, banquet hall, theatre and spa area, which are located outside of the accommodation circles, provide some additional geometries to the homogeneous appearance.
The construction of the rooms consists of a light steel structure with dry walling. Solar collectors transform the high input of solar radiation into electric energy. Water is also a crucial issue in the desert and a recycling system for the wastewater was put in place. For the interior the architects used local sand to finish the walls, bringing the desert into the rooms. The hotel will open in 2015 and tourists will either arrive in the cabins of a newly installed cable car or on the back of a Bactrian camel.
The architects reacted sensitively to the delicate environmental issues. The entertaining access by cable car or camel and the search for resilient techniques for supply and waste management found a form that sits harmoniously among the moving sand dunes of an extraordinary place. From afar the hotel looks as if it is a multi-storied structure that echoes the ovoo-shrines in the landscape.
LocationDalad, Inner Mongolia, China
Light Weight Steel Structure
Satoshi Maeda, Qiao Wenke, Dao Huiling, Li Doudou
Jung Donghyun, Bian Baoyang, Li Shuangquan, Su Zhen