Slow Architecture: Building a Sustainable Tomorrow

Slow Architecture: Building a Sustainable Tomorrow

This article appears in Volume
24: The Slow Issue

food, slow fashion, slow travel: wherever the term “slow”
is applied, it signals a rebellion against the prizing of a
short-term economic gain over long-term sustainability. The Hilton
hotel group recently bragged about opening one new property every
day. While it may have all the technology to reduce emissions and
save water that money can buy, this rate of development feels
intrinsically contradictory. The first rule of sustainability is
reuse, and this applies as much to buildings as it does to
packaging and materials. Rather than replicating architecture on a
global scale, considerate development protects the past while
creating opportunities for growth through employment, reviving
traditional skills and financing creativity.

In reaction to the sleek and impersonal buildings that are
shooting up in cities all over the world, the concept of “slow
architecture” is becoming a movement of its own. Its members
include the hoteliers who have poured years of commitment, money
and consideration into just one place, restoring it so lovingly
that it starts to take on a character beyond that of a building
alone. Whether protecting a slice of history, preserving old-world
charm or championing traditional craftsmanship, these abodes know
their place in the world. Layered with stories and human care, they
make us long to travel, instilling a sense of peace that you can
almost feel seeping from their walls.


Marrakech, Morocco

This 300-year-old riad is tucked away in a lesser visited part
of Marrakech‘s
medina that feels remarkably untouched – boys play football in the
dusty alleys outside and the air is filled with neighbourly
chatter. “In Morocco, they have a saying that means ‘You don’t find
your house, your house finds you,'” says AnaYela’s director Andrea
Bury. “Someone spotted us with a guide and asked us to have a look
at a derelict building nearby. From the moment we saw it, we knew
we had stumbled upon something magical.” Over the course of a year
the former palace was restored using nothing but hand tools and
traditional techniques. A hundred craftsmen re-sculpted the
building using tadelakt, a labour-intensive waterproof plaster.
During the reconstruction a manuscript was discovered in a hidden
room revealing the story of a 16-year-old girl’s love affair.
Starting with the words “I am Yela”, the tale is hammered in silver
onto the riad’s doors. “I’m not an architect or a designer, but
this project has made me completely rethink the way we live,”
reflects Bury. Soon after completing AnaYela she set up Abury, a
platform to help artisans market their products on an international
scale. Just like AnaYela, Abury preserves traditional skills by
connecting them with modern design.

This image is on holiday

Montagne Alternative

Commeire, Switzerland

This nature-led retreat has breathed life back into the 500-
year-old Swissvillage
of Commeire. Sixty years ago the farming industry here drew its
last breath and when co-owner Benoit Greindl found the village only
12 residents remained. He set out to create a sanctuary from the
modern world that would support the local economy. “We talk a lot
about sustainability being a new thing, but these ancient villages
were doing it hundreds of years ago – houses were built to last
using natural materials that are in keeping with the land,” he
observes. “It’s been inspiring to restore the old barns by
combining the best of the past and the future.” The economic impact
is still being realised, but already some residents have returned
and a village shop has opened.

This image is on holiday

Dunton Hot Springs

Colorado, US

The abandoned ghost town of Dunton, hidden in the mountains just
outside of Telluride,
, was bought by the entrepreneur Christoph Henkel in
1994. He had the intention of turning a profit by selling it off as
real estate – however, it didn’t take long for the enchanting
history and the surrounding valley to get the better of his
finance-driven plans. Local carpenters and craftsmen were brought
in to restore whatever they could, including an old saloon where
Butch Cassidy carved his name into the bar, a store, a bathhouse
and a dancehall. Ranchers laboured over the complicated chinking
between hand-hewn logs and a neighbouring farm donated a cabin,
which was driven down the road on a pick-up truck, to thank Henkel
for his conservation efforts. The result is a perfectly restored
1880s mining town, a scattering of huts surrounded by the epic San
Juan Mountains. While cabins appear rustic and untouched on the
outside, inside they are exquisitely furnished with salvaged
antiques, roll-top tubs and wood-burning stoves.

This image is on holiday

Alilia Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China

Buildings are a fundamental part of our social history and
nowhere is this more precious than in China, where heritage is
often erased without a second thought. Alila Yangshuo is the only
restored sugar mill in south China, a lofty concrete structure that
sits on the Li River which meanders through the dramatic karst
mountains. Architect Dong Gong’s ambitious design is littered with
historical references. Bamboo installations depict local caves and
traditional machinery, while hollow concrete blocks used throughout
the exterior replicate the sugar-making process of the 1960s. With
no mass production facility available, it took four men working for
over a year to create the 60,000 blocks needed.

This image is on holiday

Reserva Do Ibitipoca

Minas Gerais, Brazil

Reserva do Ibitipoca’s hotel and lodges aren’t only a nod to a
historical preservation, they’re a fundamental part of the area’s
future. Now owned by the local community, their back-to- nature
ethos reflects Ibitipoca’s slow way of life and pays 100 per cent
back into the hands of locals. Originally built in 1715, the
reserve’s grand farmhouse, Fazenda do Engenho, had been left to
ruin until local businessman Renato Machado bought the land. Over
three years Fazenda was transformed into an eight- bedroom hotel
using local knowledge and skills. By adhering to 18th-century
building principles, Machado proved that modern isn’t always best –
high ceilings and multiple windows allow the wind to cool the house
and remove the need for air-conditioning. The estate’s
craftsmanship has not only supported the local economy but also
given a new lease of life to old skills. Machado likes to think of
Ibitipoca as a living art gallery showcasing local talent –
intricate woodwork celebrates Minas Gerais’ wood- turning and
carving tradition, authentic Mineirão art adorns the walls and even
the paint was made using local mud.

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