Wild West Indies: Jade Mountain, Saint Lucia

Taken by helicopter, this photo reveals the layered composition of the resort. The stacked terraces ensure absolute privacy in each of the guest rooms, or “sanctuaries.”
Taken by helicopter, this photo reveals the layered composition of the resort. The stacked terraces ensure absolute privacy in each of the guest rooms, or “sanctuaries.”

TEXT Andrew Hotari

PHOTO Joe McNally

While many resorts in the Caribbean are often half-empty, travellers seeking one-of-a kind experiences continue to fully occupy a remote volcanic mountain escape on a tropical island.

And for good reason: after all, who doesn’t like a good mystery? Saint Lucia is definitely a mysterious place. Quaint and colourful villages, small coves that hide sheltered beaches, temperamental weather, shocking tropical vistas and immense beauty abound at every twist and turn of the torturous mountain terrain.

Perhaps the success of Jade Mountain lies in the fact that it is equally as enigmatic as the landscape in which it resides. The resort came to be through many years of intense collaboration between hotel owner Nick Troubetzkoy, who trained as an architect in British Columbia (and for whom I work) and a Toronto design team, led by principal designer Peter Bull.

Conceptually, the building is a tour de force: a seven-storey hotel where each room has an integrated infinity pool and no exterior wall. The pools cascade down the side of the mountainous site, facing the ocean. Each pool is startlingly different in colour, size and shape. This lack of duplication is a central theme: each of the 30 rooms also has a different geometry and sense of space. Adding to the aura of uniqueness, the rooms—dubbed “sanctuaries” by the hotel—are each accessed by their own individual bridge.

A typical strategy for designing on a steep slope is to cut terraces into the earth and embed a building into the hillside. Instead, Jade Mountain springs out from the slope into the sky. This allows each sanctuary to be completely private with no view of other units or roofs below. Numerous bridges angle back to the hillside, creating a fantastical sculpture of concrete, wood, greenery, colour, light and shadow. Troubetzkoy approached the site with the aim to “build with what you are standing upon.” The building’s stone cladding and many other materials were obtained from the site itself.

Because the building is pulled away from the hill, it requires no air conditioning and is cooled by free-flowing mountain breezes. The natural hill becomes the grounds and gardens for visitors—it is lush with tropical vegetation, Escher-like stairs and twisting streams alive with tropical fish. The opposite slope is used to naturally purify greywater, using gravity and a sequence of reed beds that step down the terrain. Carefully conceived sustainable strategies abound throughout. There are many lessons here that work.

Although the influences of Canadian West Coast Modernism are palpable, the result has more to do with an incremental approach to design over the project’s six-year construction period. Mistakes were corrected on the spot, strategies evolved from one floor to the next. “It takes a perfect storm: a symbiosis of client, design team, the site, and the overall ambition,” says Bull.

The real impact of projects in remote locations is in their possibility of sustaining local culture and employment. The hotel was hand-built with local craftsmen, and its reputation and success are largely dependent on local employees who are responsible for its daily operation. When Saint Lucians build hotels, they know that they are building a future for themselves and their children. And it shows: just ask any Saint Lucian if they know where Jade Mountain is. With pride they’ll tell you.

Andrew Hotari is an intern architect working with Troubetzkoy Architects.