Every year nearly two million visitors flock to the isolated city of Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of North America’s West Coast, to experience the beautiful geography where desert meets sea. Among the numerous high-end resorts there is a five-star standout called The Resort at Pedregal, where I spent 20 days during January last year—but not as a paying guest indulging in sport fishing, fine dining, and tequila drinking: I was working.
What sets this place apart from the other world-class luxury resorts in Cabo is its unique location between the rocky Pedregal mountainside and the Pacific Ocean. Accessible only by a 300-meter-long tunnel bored directly through granite, The Resort at Pedregal has unimpeded sunset ocean views on a pristine, white-sand beach that was virtually inaccessible before the site construction. SWA Dallas provided full landscape architectural services there, drawing inspiration from local culture, plants, and geography. Since opening in 2009, the resort has consistently ranked in the top three on lists for best Mexican resorts in U.S. News & World Report and Travel + Leisure.
Together with all the beauty and tranquility that this oceanfront site offers, there is also the looming potential for disaster. And in 2014, it struck hard. Hurricane Odile hit Cabo San Lucas on September 14th; with sustained winds of up to 125 mph it was the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in the Baja Peninsula. Situated smack between a mountain and a hurricane, my future home away from home took a beating.
Immediately after the storm passed, the resort began rebuilding. Every day without visitors is a major loss for a regional economy based on tourism, so they hit the ground running with the goal of being operational ASAP. Nearly everything that was constructed five years before had to be rebuilt or refinished in some way. It was primarily an exercise of removing and replacing anything that had been affected by the saltwater, pelting rocks, and winds, (which was 90 percent of everything on site). SWA was rehired to redesign and oversee construction of the site landscape. Which is how I ended up on the scene.
As the Dallas office updated the plans, a unique opportunity to improve upon lessons learned surfaced. We requested input from the hotel management group, the everyday users (the most important opinion), hotel staff, and outside contractors that provided event set-up and landscape maintenance services. These groups commented on what worked well before and what could be done to better suit their as well as their guest’s needs. Incorporating these updates into the new set of plans provided a better understanding of the project as an inhabited space, and SWA was able to improve on its design.
While providing the on-site field work necessary to complete such a fast-paced project, I was able to make decisions based on input from hotel staff and landscape maintenance crews, who knew the constraints of the site better than anyone else. I worked from sunup to sundown, taking advantage of every hint of daylight to assist the landscape crews with moving boulders, spacing plants, facing trees, and reviewing the plant material brought in every day. The only downtime was a 30-minute lunch, when most of the laborers would take a quick nap in the shade or grab some food at the hotel staff cafeteria. I tried to find new people to practice Spanish with, invariably a two-way lesson. It was a nice way to unwind before heading back to the chaotic work day and many of the hotel staff enjoyed it as much as I did.
One particularly challenging aspect of the job was finding replacement plant material. As the hurricane affected such a large geographical area, regional nurseries and growers had also lost much of their plant inventory. And with a large number of resorts all attempting to replace damaged plants at the same time there was a very limited supply. Replacing plants was a constant battle; we continually found more dead plants as the pelting rocks from the strong winds had penetrated cacti, causing them to slowly rot out. A lot of mixing and matching of existing and new plants occurred to find matching sizes.
As the weeks counted down to days it seemed like the rebuilding would not be finished for the opening on January 31st, but in the final hours we pulled it off with the help of everyone on site. Waiters and bellhops ran wheelbarrows of plants across the site while bartenders and concierge assistants swept up debris. Just before the first guests arrived, perfection was once again achieved for The Resort at Pedregal, only this time even better.
This project serves as a model of interoffice collaboration to effectively complete a project as it moves from design to construction and the potential for design improvement with keeping the user top of mind and actively involved in the process.
Watch a video of the re-opening at The Resort at Pedregal, courtesy of the resort: