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In 2017, St. Maarten was hit directly by a hurricane called Irma, causing widespread damage to the island. As many other Caribbean islands, St. Maarten is highly dependent on tourism as an income, which withdrew dramatically in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Since the 1960s, its nature, better known as ‘sea, sand & sun’, created a high economic value. The development of mass tourism has caused destruction of habitats, intense use of land, decreasing biodiversity and pollution, forming huge threats for the ecosystems. We could say that St. Maarten’s biggest product is in danger. However, the natural environment has already shown that it’s highly resilient and could solve many sustainable challenges for mankind. Aware of the economic dependency on tourism, I studied how a certain form of recreation could be used to enhance the natural environment, instead of influencing it in a destructive way.
During the field trip, I discovered a site where nature, development and history come together. The area comprises a pond with mangroves, a coastal area, old ruins of a plantation and a massive concrete structure of an unfinished resort. I proposed a strategy where tourism should not be the goal, but the medium through which we preserve. So I came up with a program and activities that could create awareness about the use of ecosystems, support them or even restore them.
The minimal interventions applied to the ruins consist not only of addition of architectural elements, but certain grades of demolition as well. At some places the existing foundation walls are strategically demolished to allow birds to shelter or plants to grow. In other parts humans take the upper hand by the use of accommodation. As the project is inspired by the natural evolving of ecosystems, the area will be developed in several phases. Within each phase, building materials and products are planted, grown and harvested. For example, within the enclosed spaces of foundation walls the local community could cultivate crops. For optimal growth, shading and rainwater harvest is provided by a steel structure with shading placed on top. In and around ‘The Agricrafture lab’, natural building materials can be produced like palm leaves, wood or coconut fibre. In the hotel, bird boxes filled with coconut fibre optimize the acoustics of the voids. The pool of the hotel is connected to an integrated water system filtered by plants and gravel of the demolished parts. Everything added to the existing modern ruin is made of natural materials. In case there’s another hurricane, these parts could fly away and will be a nutrition for the birds and the plants in need. In this way, the site becomes a network of interconnecting processes - just like an ecosystem.
In short, ruins show traces of our economy and development of time. But most importantly; they trigger our imagination. In this specific project, they shape a new type of spatial form in which the visitor becomes an explorer wandering through the services that the ecosystem can provide.
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