Architecture at My SachaJi – the challenges of building a dream
hen coming up with the initial ideas for the architecture of My SachaJi, Maria Teresa Ponce was faced with an unusual challenge. She wanted to make buildings that looked invisible.
“It was an anti-architecture feel!” she explains. “We wanted to interrupt the landscape as little as possible.”
When you visit My SachaJi wellness ecolodge on the outskirts of Otavalo, you are struck by just how well the founder achieved her vision. Each of the rooms is tucked subtly into the hillside, the main house camouflaged behind reflective glass and a fabulous, vivacious green roof.
It is almost as if the buildings were grown, rather than built.
As an architecture graduate who hadn’t managed to put her skills into practice since the financial collapse of the late 1990s, Maria Teresa decided to design the property herself and enlisted her father to help. Building would begin in 2011.
Another aspect that was imperative to her design was sustainability. Those same green roofs, for example, not only allow the constructions to blend into the landscape, but offset and soak up carbon dioxide emissions.
Maria Teresa notes that these roofs that have become a hallmark of the wellness hotel faced a rocky start. During the designing phase, she went to a university that purported to be an expert on the subject, and was told that the plants on her green roofs would not grow any higher than 30cm. Today they stand at three metres – taller than a Christmas tree.
Maria Teresa attributes this to her talented agricultural engineer who got the mixture of materials underneath the plants spot on, meaning that they could grow, but didn’t burn.
Other sustainable features and ideas incorporated into the design included making sure that water could enter rooms using the least energy possible; solar panels for heating water; using natural, local materials; and creating spaces that would allow good, natural light, but be extremely comfortable.
None of these were without their challenges, one of the greatest being transporting the materials to the ecolodge. Sat on top of a hill, access is via a bumpy, barely paved road. Maria Teresa offset much of this by using her own pickup truck to carry materials – including 2,000 used tires for seismic and heat insulation in a design of her own – during her own visits to the site to minimize journeys there.
The founder then faced further complications during the construction process. Having used the Flower of Life as a map to design angles and proportions, and fengshui principles of curved, smooth lines through which energy can freely flow, Maria Teresa discovered that local builders had never constructed round figures before.
“It was a challenge to teach them how to do it, to build, without moving the radius. In the end we used geometry in the construction process, and they figured it out!” she explains.
As well as the rounded forms, fengshui principles played a greater part in Maria Teresa’s conceptualization. This ancient Chinese art, science and ritual influenced Maria Teresa in her inclusion of the natural elements in the design. Water is represented in the Jacuzzi, fire in the bonfire, earth in the organic vegetable garden, and wind in ribbons that guests would be able to tie onto trees.
All pieces of the puzzle fit together to create a striking, beautiful, avant-garde example of sustainable architecture, leading the field both in Ecuador and across South America. And not only does it look fantastic and feel morally and ecologically sound, but is the place where you’ll have one of the best night’s sleep of your life, feel cosy and secure, and gain tremendous joy from simply sitting and watching.