JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa
Olson Kundig’s JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa blurs the threshold between desert and Pacific Ocean at the southern tip of Baja California Peninsula in Mexico.
Af Jason Dibbs
Comprised of a series of monumental and geometrically ordered spaces — intended to “celebrate” the Mesoamerican architectural tradition — the JW Marriott Los Cabos appears to grow from the landscape whilst framing the majesty of the ocean.
The desert landscape and ocean views are clearly the raison-d’être behind the architectural design for the JW Marriott Los Cabos, led by Jim Olson, one of the principals of Seattle-based Olson Kundig, and delivered in collaboration with famed Mexico City practice IDEA Asociados. Whilst the resort is separated from the water’s edge by sand dunes, a series of reflective pools deftly colored to match the Pacific’s waters, bring “the power of the ocean” into the lobby. There are myriad moments in which the design seeks to reinforce this relationship; Olson explains there are “places in the project where the ocean is framed for you … it’s almost like a picture, sometimes it looks almost like a Rothko painting with the ocean in the middle, the sky above and the land below.”
Accommodation at the JW Marriott Los Cabos consists of 299 rooms, with amenities such as a 2,000-square-meter day spa, including a temazcal (a traditional Mexican sweat lodge), as well as a library, a bar and restaurant spaces. Throughout the architecture, the lines between interiors and exteriors are blurred, referencing traditional Mexican haciendas, but also capitalizing on the temperate climate of Baja California Sur. This design strategy is apparent from the very first encounter with the resort: the entryway is flanked by desert succulents, the approach to the lobby — described by Olson as a “sacred procession” — establishes a sense of rhythmic grandeur, and ultimately one is presented with the ocean, starkly framed by monumental architectural lines.
Materially, Olson Kundig’s JW Marriott Los Cabos is very much an extension of the local topography. According to Olson, “the building feels like it’s actually part of the land, it just grows right up out of the land.” In part, this is achieved through smoothly textured concrete and stucco, designed to mimic the color and qualities of the sand. The natural aesthetic is brought further into the architecture with local aggregate and travertine-lined hallways. Local art abounds in both interior and exterior spaces, with specially commissioned pieces by Mexican artists including Jaume Plensa, Jorge Yázpik, Angel Otero and Sam Falls.
Integral to the success of carefully woven interior and exterior spaces is the selective planting of indigenous and non-indigenous plant species, emphasizing the architecture’s relationship to the local topography and differentiating private and intimate spaces and sunken gardens. Water and energy conservation underlie Olson’s approach to the design, and working alongside Michelle Arab, planting is focused on resilient native plant species that require little additional water, whilst internal gardens offer protected areas for non-native species. This idea is reminiscent of the Spanish Catholic Mission gardens first established in Baja California in the 17th century.
Perhaps the most omnipresent trope characterizing JW Marriott Los Cabos is the sense of scale it evokes; Olson is clearly fascinated by the contrast between human and monumental scale, and the interplay of this contrast is explored through the size and materiality of carefully designed spaces — some evoke a sense of sublime universality whilst others foster quietude and intimacy. The scale is further emphasized through the simplicity of the architecture itself — clean horizontal and vertical lines, unadorned planes, and an unassuming earthy color palette — providing a setting that invites you to linger in-between landscape and ocean. As Olson puts it, the architecture is but a backdrop for the routines and celebrations of people’s lives.