matali crasset: Dar HI eco-retreat in tunisia by designboom

matali crasset: Dar HI eco-retreat in tunisia – part 1

‘Dar HI hotel’ by matali crasset in nefta, tunisia
image courtesy Dar HI

looking for a city break ? weekend, short or long christmas trip?
parisian designer matali crasset envisioned an experimental eco-retreat and spa in nefta, a tiny village at the foot of a palm-tree
oasis in southern tunisia. Dar HI is a compound with 17 units, ranging from cube-shaped, flat-roofed, ocher-clay houses and
brick caverns to dune-like rooms with sleek minimalist furnishings and brightly-colored walls. the Dar HI is crasset’s first foray
into architecture. designboom visited the place before its official opening.

a pilotis of the Dar HI hotel overlooking the palm oasis
image courtesy Dar HI

the Dar HI is a contemporary experiment, something between a guest house and a charm hotel.
it allows you to be isolated, to take care of your body and mind, as well as exchanging and opening one’s self to the other in an
exceptional natural and human environment.

I wanted to develop a small hotel in the desert where you could slow down, take the time to reflect and enjoy simple things‘, says matali.
nefta is only a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute flight from paris, lyon, nice or milan, but you feel like you’ve arrived at the end of the world.
the town, 23 kilometers from tozeur international airport (15 minutes with the hotel’s free shuttle service) is located at the edge of the
golden dunes of the sahara.

the elevated independent units feature orange and azure daybed mattresses against a wall of glass, with a sweeping view of the village, palm grove and desert beyond
image © designboom

the project has been designed so as to not be a replica. this is a new project, built around the concepts of well-being, an unexpected eco-retreat.’
matali crasset worked closely with a tunisian architect, mohamed nasr, ‘the idea was to collaborate with the local artisans and not
import anything, including our own logic
,’ she explains. therefore only locally sourced materials, like palm wood and clay bricks
were used in the building complex. ‘it was really exceptional to invent everything from scratch – the hotel becomes a platform,
a place for potential development of an environmentally sustainable tourism in tunesia

futuristic little houses on stilts with enormous bow windows
image © designboom

the facade blends perfectly with the environment. ‘we didn’t want the hotel to be an imposing contemporary structure
that would stand out and be viewed by the local population as some kind of UFO
matali crasset has designed a set of ‘pilotis’ constructed from concrete sand (mixing concrete and sand from the sahara).
the architectural proposal is meant to create a harmony between the natural location of the pilotis and the local life surrounding them.
the development includes private and public spaces, a thermal pool, restaurant and spa.

life is organized around the bow-window
image © designboom

tourism in tunisia has developed around the fashionable places erected by tour operators in international tourist destinations,
but a country so replete with natural wonder encourages a journey of greater research.
until now, the country did not even have original small boutique hotels or contemporary guest houses, nor let alone projects in
ecological hospitality. with the Dar HI, tourism in tunisia now takes a new turn, towards a more humane and reasoned path.

the thermal pool with hot springs from the desert and patio space
image courtesy Dar HI

the sun lounger acts as a cozy meeting place for two or three.
all furniture in wood and concrete are designed by matali crasset.

outdoor lounging area in the shade
image © designboom

under the stilts of each elevated independent unit is an outdoor lounging area, shaded by the building, like a subterranean village.
roofs of the lounge areas are made of palm wood.

image © designboom

the elevated houses are all on a different height, with different views, they are located according to sun exposure and panorama.

parasols with cane cover
image © designboom

cane on the windows and umbrellas provide protection from the sun.

image © designboom

the Dar HI is a search for self-sufficiency and local development, using the resources available at hand rather than importing materials
from abroad. the facades perfectly mix with local architecture. Dar HI’s main colours are ochre and sand with a comprehensive
choice of bright colors to accentuate the different social functions.

Dar HI’s layout is like a village

image © designboom

Dar HI’s layout is like a village and it is in harmony with nefta’s landscape.
surrounded by a wall similar to those of local architectures, the Dar HI follows the landscape’s shape and emerges from the ground.
a fabulous light, a landscape that invites to meditation, abrupt cliffs –  the wonderful panorama is made of all these elements.

the thermal pool with hot springs from the desert at sun set
image courtesy Dar HI

the raised spaces offer breathtaking views different for everyone.  some are elevated to benefit from views on the horizon and
of the iridescent thermal pool with water from the hot springs of the desert, others overlook the changing landscape of the oasis.

image © designboom

the project is aimed at enthusiasts of eco-spa retreats.

images courtesy Dar HI

the organization of the areas favors different possibilities to share moments with other people or to rest in a calm retired place.

image courtesy Dar HI

designboom’s room at our stay last week
image © designboom

the TV – videocorner and other collective spaces
images © designboom

the view is framed by simple architectural intervention, the lounging area is made of concrete and sand
image © designboom

… the unique panorama of nefta’s palm oasis.

(clockwise from top left) frédérick e. grasser hermé, cooking area behind glass windows, two female cooks from nefta, native organic food
images © designboom

the project is sustainable as the team has forged close relationships with the local inhabitants, who will ultimately be responsible
for the guest house, its everyday upkeep and success of the retreat in the long term. local cooks are trained by world famous experts,
to combine traditional local recipes with gourmets requirements of the international clients.
FeGHtima – mrs. frédérick e. grasser hermé, cookbook author, food consultant of top restaurants (and muse of alain ducasse,
the first french chef to achieve six stars in the michelin guide) likes her food to be simple and is particularly interested in organic food.

the Dar Hi boutique by FeGHtima offers products selected or created by frédérick e. grasser hermé –
in this bazaar you can find typical local products, from essential oils and other plant aromas, to interior objects, books, ceramics,
cooking utensils, palm tree baskets and mats…

the kitchen and self-service area
image © designboom

no imported products, and not the so called ‘authentic cuisine for tourists’, but a self sufficient and local development approach.
here artificial folklore is not necessary. vegetables are grown in Dar HI’s own gardens in between the palms and the Dar HI has
committed itself to buy all other food ingredients from the production of the village of nefta, to encourage a cooperative system.

the daily menue is written on the window
image © designboom

locally grown bananas and dates make a special dessert.
the Dar HI offers a simple and healthy cuisine typical of the area.

fresh tunesian bread
image © designboom

lounging near the entrance area

in the interior, roofs and doors are made of palm wood.

lounging near the entrance area
image © designboom

(left to right) philippe chapelet and patrick elouarghi
image © designboom

the enterprising young hotelier partners, patrick elouarghi (a french man of tunesian father and spanish mother) and french
philippe chapelet were eager to explore an alternate form of hospitality that would be more extreme, to encourage an alternate
way of living and a more sustainable form of tourism.

nefta is a place we’d often visited on holiday‘, says philippe chapelet, ‘we showed matali the property on the hill,
overlooking the dunes, then asked her to imagine a new kind of house. she came back with her proposal, which included futuristic
little houses on stilts with enormous bow windows that float over empty space.
from there, we gave her carte blanche.’

rendering by matali crasset

the discussion  between philippe chapelet, patrick elouarghi and matali crasset, began in 2006, their dialogue revolved around developing
a new contemporary experience, a completely new concept of hospitality and serenity.
after four years of construction and €2.5 million investment, the Dar Hi opens the doors today.
I design places for people who are curious and want to experience something out of phase with their daily rituals,
maybe that’s what real luxury is all about
‘. matali’s initial venture into hotel design came earlier this decade, with the Hi Hotel in
nice (france), by the same owners as the Dar HI, mr. elouarghi and mr. chapelet. it opened in 2003 and features 38-rooms around
nine conceptual themes.

Dar HI logo

matali crasset designed 3 different areas : the pilotis houses, the troglodytes and the dunes.
nefta is an important religious village, a platform of sufism that gives a poetic and mystical dimension to it.
the ‘star wars’ movie was shot in the neighboring village and the set is still alive to visit…

click here for part 2 for more images of the interiors, steamy geothermal hammam, and views onto the date groves and palm trees galore.

project info:

Dar HI
constructed area and terrace: 2347 m2

project manager:
matali crasset, assisted by marco salgado and francis fichot
execution architect: mohamed nasr
shell building works & concrete masonry: ELB, mr louhichi
follow up & surveying: karconsult, tunis
electricity: EBF, mr ben jemaa
air conditioning: SBMF, mr ben messaoud, tunis
carpentry: mokded company, nefta
engineering consulting: best engineering, tunis
control office: excell control, tunis
upholsterer: mr hsine azouga
ironwork: mr samir cherif
tightness engineering: SNEC, tunis
ceramic: mr mourad hsiki, nabeul
fabric: I.D all creations, mme barka douida, djerba

matali crasset: Dar HI eco-lodge in nefta – part 2

wrap around windows in pilotis hotel room nr.4
image courtesy Dar HI

a few days before its official opening, designboom visited the new Dar HI, an exclusive eco-retreat in nefta, in southern tunisia.
the Dar HI is a search for self-sufficiency and local development. it is located at the foot of a palm-tree oasis at the edge of the
golden dunes of the sahara. parisian designer matali crasset envisioned a compound with 17 units, ranging from cube-shaped,
flat-roofed, ocher-clay houses and brick caverns to dune-like rooms with sleek minimalist furnishings and brightly-colored walls.

the view over nefta from the panorama bow window of pilotis hotel room nr.4
image © designboom

the Dar HI is crasset’s first foray into architecture.
the overall architectural goal was to give a strong proposition while staying in harmony with the natural site and the local life.
the eco-retreat and spa features elevated views of nefta, a tiny village at the foot of a palm-tree oasis in southern tunisia.
the local date grove is a gem in a fragile environment that has to be preserved and renovated.
the renovation  started with a great development financed by the albert de monaco foundation.
Dar HI is committed in the same preservation and development of the oasis. a research laboratory will be in DARHI to find
new ways and techniques to use the palm tree and the dates.

… the unique panorama of nefta
image © designboom

each room features a generous strip of window which offers a panoramic view of the palm grove
and desert beyond. the window is lined with cushioned seating and an elevated lounge space outfitted
with a bright orange and azure daybed mattress. storage space for shoes and blankets are generated
from nooks in the concrete base of the elevated independent units.

image © designboom

wash basins function as bed side tables, the shower is tucked behind the bed to allow for the maximum amount of space. in a separate yellow room you’ll find a WC.
image © designboom

in order to provide a spacious shower, the sinks are provided outside the bathroom on either sides of the bed,
serving as individual bed-side tables / vanity sinks. the shower itself is tucked behind a partial wall that acts
as a large headboard.

image © designboom

interior of pilotis hotel room nr.5
image courtesy Dar HI

a steamy geothermal hammam
image © designboom

all the hot water in the rooms and hamam are generated through geothermal techniques,
taking advantage of the natural energy supply while cutting down on operation expenses.

images © designboom

images © designboom

image © designboom

the communal space is accented with artichoke yellow on the columns and the backs of cut out shelvings.
small pendant lamps are suspended at varying heights throughout the space with its shape serving as
a motif on the fireplace hearth.

image © designboom

the babouche rack (where guests shed their shoes for handmade berber slippers)
image © designboom

a discreet door leads you to this guest house. the entrance, a corridor, has a ramp and is the last stop where you leave your
usual behavior and codes at the exterior. you take off your shoes and wear babouches (tunisian slippers). you are at home.

image © designboom

the young hotelier partners, patrick elouarghi and philippe chapelet wanted to explore an alternative form of hospitality that
would be more extreme and would encourage an alternative way of living and a more sustainable form of tourism.
the dar HI is a search for self-sufficiency and local development, using the resources available at hand rather than importing
materials from abroad. for patrick elouarghi, the choice of tunisia is firstly an expression of familial commitment: ‘my father is
and I have long had the wish to develop a project in tunisia, to work and share experiences with the tunisians.’
creating a place in the desert is not easy, and it responds to the very contemporary need to withdraw from the fast pace of the world.
the desert is the ultimate place for leaving one’s day-to-day life, offering a pause and the conditions necessary for relaxation,’
patrick notes.

images © designboom

nefta is an important religious village, a platform of sufism that gives a poetic and mystical dimension to it.
the dar hi is not a hotel or a classic spa, but a completely different place in which you can live an experience
of withdrawal into oneself. where everyone can enjoy a ‘spa for the mind’, located in the open desert,
just a few hours from paris,
‘ says philippe chapelet.

elevated  thermal pool with hot springs from the desert with views onto date groves and palm trees galore
image © designboom

being in the desert, the question of water supply is therefore decisive. the water arriving in nefta comes from a hot spring source
of the desert and supplies the Dar HI with water for the hammam and the out-door pool. this water is also present in small ditches
around the pill houses and allows the irrigation of the oasis.

the thermal pool and the ‘pilotis’ , futuristic little houses on stilts with enormous bow windows
image © designboom

the owners have based their project on contemporary values of our society and invest in the following fields: contemporary art,
design, music, ecology, organic and sustainable development, technology …
Hi life is the development of this new type of tourism and will be developed further with other franchised based small projects.

thermal pool with hot springs from the desert
image © designboom

philippe chapelet and patric elouargy have been working together for twenty years.
after opening the first world food concept store in paris,’l’epicerie du monde’, they decided to move to the countryside and refurbished
the chateau de la tremblaye in the loire valley, which became a ‘chateaux & hôtels de france’ member already in its first year.
in 2001, they set for themselves a new challenge: to invent a hotel with new standards, transcending the conventions and clichés of
luxury hotels. they came up with HI hotel in nice, france, also designed by matali crasset.

still under construction
image © designboom

the ‘troglodyte suites’ are derived from the cave dwellings in the neighboring village of matmâta, and look like they’ve been
dug out of the rock. inside, it’s a comfortable shelter of cool respite from the blazing sun and a circle of light shines in
from up above, illuminating the inner patio and the cave’s lilac and yellow walls.
these areas are built from small bricks from nefta and are completely independent with their own private terraces
but are also linked together by a circular area from one to the other. collective life is articulated around a small square with a
small water cascade and a bread oven. these rooms can be rented for a stay with friends or family.
the rooms are still under construction and will be ready at the end of 2010.

still under construction
image © designboom

other areas are called ‘dunes’, which are at ‘sand level’. big open spaces that the wind would have sculpted.
the reference was the bivouac that allows you to modulate your comfort as you wish – the experience of living within the dunes
and creating your own nest to feel closer to the desert.
they are all different: one has a loggia with natural light and an indoor garden, another has an external terrace and a large
window with a view of nefta, and a third offers a view of the date grove with an independent room and an alcove wooden terrace.

rendering by matali crasset

fifteen minutes from the tozeur airport, nefta is a port of entry of the southern tunisian desert. between chott el-jerid and the sand dunes.
the site is fabulous. you’ll still find local farmers leading their donkeys down the dusty streets.
if you are a curious traveler, looking for a unique experience, it is also possible to spend a few days of your stay within the date
grove in a palm tree berber tent.

ancient berber village in mides
image © designboom

tamerza canyon and chott el djerid
images © designboom

chott el djerid – chotts are depressions that fill with salt once moisture from the sahara’s winter rains evaporates
in the spring and summer. located in southern tunisia, the remote salt pan is a series of oases that is worth the difficult trip.
although it is possible to reach the chott el gharsa by bus, the area is largely devoid of public transport.
it is best to organize a day trip with tour companies.

we went to the desert dunes
image © designboom

moving dunes, star wars scenery and ‘camels cross here’ sign in sahara desert
images © designboom

on the southern border of chott el gharsa near the algerian border lies the filming locations for various scenes of the star wars films.
the elaborate sets were constructed in this area where the only access is via a sand road through the middle of the sahara.
this road was built for the filming of ‘the english patient’ and was extended for the filming of the star wars prequels. for some
unexplained reason, most of the sets in this area were left intact after filming was completed.

star wars tatooine planet
image © designboom


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