Casa Las Olas
Playa Grande, Dominican Republic
Sukey Novogratz, Jean Lin / Colony, Silman, Gentry Construction, Gruopo IMODOM
A meandering path through the dense jungle approaches the Retreat House, first seen as a hovering, wood-clad volume pieced together from glimpses of its vertical siding emerging through a field of silver tree trunks.
On approach, openings in the façade read as voids and carvings, and on nearing entry, the initial reading of a hovering mass is subverted. The ipe battens of the upper level idiosyncratically drop all the way down to grade, bypassing the concrete base. The massive nature of the building peels apart into a cascading series of nested arcs on the edges of the roof, on the intermediate floor slab, and on the wall of the foot. This moment of oscillating languages knitted together by tightly-resolved geometries hints at the rich ambiguity and layering of figures existing throughout the building.
A fluttering assemblage of scissor trusses structures the roof, offering explicitly articulated rhythm and orientation, as sectional undulations expose both top and bottom, inside and outside of the geometrically rich roof surface.
At the Glitch House, fluttering becomes overtly graphic. The bold patterning and dynamic use of color serve to confuse the legibility of the building’s exterior surfaces. Shadows from offset and rotated CMU blocks become entangled with the graphics on over 10,000 encaustic cement tiles. The sensibilities for this house are somewhere between Q*bert and the chromatophores of reptiles.
The arcing roof plane of the guest house gathers four suites at the edge of dense foliage and the largest naturally occurring clearing on the site.
Located on a lush, previously undeveloped site in the Dominican Republic, Casa Las Olas sits on the cusp of dense jungle to the south and pristine beach to the north. The 30,000-square-foot Retreat Main House, Guest House and Glitch House draw inspiration from the rich tropical landscape, sustainable design principles, and a diverse set of programmatic uses that focus on wellness and creative exchange. A central courtyard of scalloped white concrete serves as a spatial anchor point holding a magnificent ficus tree and allowing all adjacent programmatic elements to connect. Spatial bleeding is prevalent as buildings intersect exterior gardens, and throughout the house as loosely defined “rooms” overlap to promote connections and create unexpected view corridors.
The various structures of the wellness retreat share some formal similarities - stepped and cantilevered volumes, arcing roof lines - but are predominately understood as unique and potent autonomous buildings scattered within the jungle. The collection of structures resonates despite outwardly varied aesthetics and material treatments. As a masterplan, the disparity is a radical proposition considering the site is just 4.5 acres. The various structures prioritize their autonomy to accentuate and reflect unique local situations within the landscape, rather than adopting a consistent or unified sensibility: three acts within an incredible landscape.
In the most diagrammatic sense, the Retreat House is a transformation of a courtyard parti. Directed by solar orientation, natural ventilation, and the desire to preserve existing mature trees and vegetation, the evolved form is a drifting ring, shifting in plan and section below the jungle canopy. The house itself is a promenade in the round, with shifting pockets of enclosure alternating between center (courtyard) and perimeter (jungle and sea).
The result is a complex and fluid structural condition that shifts along corridors, curves through primary double-height spaces, and rotates to navigate the geometry at each corner. The design facilitates a panoramic experience of the site, from lush, dense jungle landscape to vast ocean views beyond.
The Guest House comprises four identical suites, individually oriented to face one of two magnificent Ficus trees on the far edge of the clearing. The suites maximize connections with the exterior by alternating orientations, offering both privacy and connection with the jungle. Between the suites are shared open air porches and an exterior living room naturally ventilated by the site’s prevailing winds.
The lower floor of the Glitch House houses landscape and maintenance equipment as well as a housekeeping laundry facility. The second floor provides housing for a chef and various instructors who lead retreats. A north-facing roof garden offers shaded space for relaxation and dining, from which the ocean becomes visible and breezes flow. The DIY attitude of the house is tangible through its robust, blocky facades.