Survival of the fittest

Friday 18 Jun 2010

Ecocamp's breezy domes provide a back to nature experience for all the family

Many building projects these days are taking issues of sustainability into consideration during the design process, however the creators of Ecocamp in Patagonia, Chile, have gone the extra mile to truly get back to nature. Attempting to replicate the dwellings of the ancient inhabitants of this wild environment, the Ecocamp team have gone back to basics, offering four star hotel domes which retain the ‘nomadic spirit’ of the Kawesqar people. They explain: “This people lived in harmony with ‘Mother Nature’ and built their huts out of wood, furs and leathers, all organic materials they found on site.”

Inspired by the traditional native Kawesqar hut – an igloo/dome-like structure – the architectural form of the Ecocamp domes are specifically engineered to the breezy environment. As gusts in the area can reach up to a blustery 160-180kmph, straight, flat walls were out of the question as the building materials for this project are extremely light-weight. In comparison, a domed façade formed of isosceles triangles provides an even distribution of the stress caused by severe wind loads. The rounded forms also reduce external surface contact with the cold air, allowing a lower exchange of temperature, preserving the warmth of the interior. Additionally, the semi-hemispheric shape supplies maximum internal space in relation to the surface area – an important factor for the ancient Kawesqari population, who had to use valuable and sometimes scarce animal skins to cover the structure.

To correlate with the Kawesqar cultural traditions, the Ecocamp team deliberately designed the domes to be portable and to ‘interfere as little as possible with the environment’. As such, no foundations are laid as the domes are supported by raised platforms which also act as uncovered walkways linking the structures with one another. To further the sustainability factor, the entire hotel community relocates after each season, allowing the grass to grow, animals to graze and the habitat to rejuvenate itself. The domes are formed of galvanised iron covered with a canvas coating and filled with synthetic insulation. Ecocamp’s intention was to construct as much of the project as possible onsite, minimising the importation of materials; however, as the Ecocamp is based inside a National Park, wood from the surrounding forests are not meant to be touched, therefore the structures were constructed outside the park and transported in on completion.

The Ecocamp Patagonia is the first hospitality company in Chile to receive the prestigious ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Certification from a third party certifier – Societe Generale de Surveillance, SGS-Switzerland. If you’re interested in gaining a little nomadic Kawesqar experience, click here to visit the Ecocamp website. With a maximum capacity of 56, places are sure to book up fast!

Sian Disson
Editorial Assistant

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