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For explora, a hotel becomes part of the place by following the pace of the landscape where it is located and establishing a relationship between proximity and distance.
José Cruz Ovalle.
In José Cruz Ovalle’s slow-paced and insightful speech every word in a sentence seems to have been carefully selected to meet a goal. This linguistic assertiveness crosses both his discourse and his work, where purpose and poetry seem to live in contradiction. Winner of the National Architecture Award 2012, it is precisely this combination which makes Cruz a conscientious interpreter of places and one of the best Chilean architects.
Known for his strong philosophical base concerning the understanding of the environment, the presence of explora in each of its destinations is the result of his vision and talent. Today, he greets us in his studio in Santiago, Chile, a few months after the opening of his most recent work: explora Sacred Valley. Fifty rooms arranged in four bays sited on terraced cornfields in one of the area’s most remote haciendas aiming at becoming the center from where to explore all dimensions of Sacred Valley.
What is the role of architecture in explora’s philosophy?
explora is not simply a company devoted to the hotel-business, but something way more complex. It considers the different dimensions involved in travelling and its relationship with places. This difference is critical to understand the particulars that distinguish explora in each of its destinations and the role that architecture plays in its vision. explora looks for a way of inhabiting that may constantly reveal the landscape in which it is located, linking movement and permanence to give the space a certain rhythm, so to speak.
explora has always proposed a conception and a way of doing things that translates both into the ethos of its brand and into every detail of its operations. It is about being focused on every angle of an experience so that travelers can discover places on their own without specific directions but rather under a flexible guidance, hence resulting in a balance between containment and freedom. In this sense, explora´s architecture is a small-scale version of the journey itself: from the accesses to the stay and from the tours to the arriving points, it provides such initial guidance. Just like in a trip, there is no place for routine or business as usual in explora’s architecture; quite often questions will be met only by clues and tracks more than by formal answers.
What process do you follow as an architect to project a work in a certain place?
Every work is different depending on its purpose. In the specific case of a hotel, the first thing you need to do is to orient travellers as to where they are. A sense of direction does not only refer to geographical coordinates but also to an in-depth understanding and perception of the place. This is something crucial for explora: bewilderment for beauty and contemplation of the surroundings. Perceiving this beauty in its entirety is only possible in so far as you have understood the place. You must leave behind any attempts to measure or obtain parameters from it, since beauty has no parameters beyond itself. This is where architecture comes into play since to the extent that the architect has effectively understood the place, he or she will be able to discover its rhythm through a dialogue with its history, geography, climate and other specifics and to define the “genius locci” that marks the difference. Following this rhythm, the architect will shape spaces to encompass it and to help the traveller to see the surrounding beauty. This process is followed in every work: to find the rhythm of events in every setting.
How was this understanding in the case of Sacred Valley?
We could say that Sacred Valley is nature exalted by the hand of humans during centuries, with countless works, tracks and vestiges that evidence a way of doing which combines dimensions pertaining to farming – like platforms existing in the hotel – with those belonging to a sacred sphere. All of them evidence the relationship of Incas with land and cosmos, as we must not forget that the cosmos represents a sacred order to them. Each vestige is a clue. However, there is something specific belonging to America: the hybridization showing up between the Incan and the conquerors’ architecture after the Spanish conquest. This is apparent in the house of Mateo Pumacahua – which is also part of the hotel – where Spaniards built their work precisely on top of the Incas’ platform wall, like in the case of Cusco. The hotel aims at echoing the gravitational presence of this historical weight, since no new building will be able to escape it.
You constantly refer to the relevance of shape in architecture. How does this apply to explora?
Architecture accommodates inhabiting by enabling actions to unfold and grants travellers a unique experience in every place. Human beings thrive when they are able to shape things and actions. For example, just like architecture shapes space, music does it with sounds and literature with language. Rites and ceremonies are nothing but actions performed in a certain order, each one with an own shape. Firstly, architecture has to identify the substantive traits of events, so to say, to make them stand out within the space of any work. Only this way can the life of a setting become a true place. This involves the constant unraveling of the shape that reverberates with such an event, with its own rhythm that makes it a unique and incomparable spot. Such is the case of Atacama, Patagonia, Rapa Nui and Sacred Valley. I believe this order and this love for shape is what marks the difference in explora’s architecture.
The fact that travellers are not suddenly introduced to the place as is the case with urban experiences is an example of how this shape is built. We always suggest a certain time and space to access hotels. This way, delaying time and stretching space is different in every place but result in a phased-in approach to the experience.
A key aspect of explora’s architecture is that it helps travellers to follow both an external and an internal path. Accordingly, the focus is placed on actions, not on functionality. Similarly, when travellers are exploring a new setting, the place to be inhabited during the trip should be discovered step by step. This opening of the opportunity to discover is crucial in everything done by explora.
For all of this, explora hotels care to integrate their spaces in wholeness. They lack a single unit with common areas, rooms, terraces, etc., but link complex spaces that accept movement to allow touring instead of simply passing by. Thus, explora’s architecture aims at accommodating to the rhythm of any space, reason for which the unique basis of every work is related to its location and the specifics of each landscape.
Is there any difference between works projected in Peru and in Chile?
There are of course differences. These places are completely different, but I understand that your question refers more to borders. Both for me and for explora there are no borders but territories. So what travellers look for is the full extension and diversity of America; and this vision of life applies to all four of explora’s hotels. They are different because of the territory, not the country.
Going back to the relevance of shape, is there any parallel between the shapes of the landscape and those created by architecture?
explora Rapa Nui, for instance, seeks to reveal the space around this solitary Island in the middle of the Pacific, submerged in what I have called an “oceanic abyss”. While I think analogies are not a good idea, observations are a way of creative contemplation aimed at revealing more than evoking the events in the setting – since nostalgia is not part of it. Just like Rapa Nui reality is an Island suspended in an oceanic abyss under a constantly moving sky, there is always a relationship between horizontal and vertical planes in Sacred Valley, between multiple levels, heights and altitudes. It is the reign of the Andes in coexistence with mountains and valleys. That said, I think the literalness so common to analogies should be avoided at all costs. It is misleading and makes us believe that we can actually capture those things when they are essentially inapprehensible. A work of architecture can never grasp a place; it can only, so to speak, sing it. By making its rhythm rhyme, something of that reality can be revealed.