BY JENNIFER PARKER
(original article in BLOUIN ARTIFINO)
Bjarke Ingels, Danish architect and founder of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is famous for remaking structures and reinventing public spaces. At 41, he’s already altered Manhattan’s skyline with a dramatic ship-like building called VIA. He scrapped the concept of brick walls to create a glass fiber cave for the Serpentine Pavilion in London. And most recently, at the Albany resort in the Bahamas, he’s toying with a new outdoor space, made of water.
The concept involves the balcony of an apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. But instead of a traditional Jacuzzi tub that sits atop a wooden deck floor, Ingels turned the entire deck itself into a pool.
BIG likes to call these “zero entry” pools. Each unit of the “Honeycomb,” the luxury, mid-rise condominium on the south coast of New Providence Island, is connected to a pool holding five metric tons of water, separated from thin air only by one sheet of clear acrylic.
“We’ve tested the hell out of it,” said Mohammad Rajab, design manager at Albany, during ARTINFO’s recent tour of the construction site. Sauntering down the pool floor’s dusty concrete slope with no apparent fear of heights, he reached out and and knocked on the transparent railing. “Only one sheet of acrylic is holding back the water, but it’s three inches thick. This can hold back a category 5 hurricane, required by Miami Dade county codes. That’s what we follow.”
The private residences at Albany, including the Honeycomb, cost between $4.5 million to $22 million. The Bahamas is a known tax haven, and in the eight years since the 2008 financial crisis, the sunny archipelago has slowly but surely been attracting millionaires and billionaires to its shores, not just to golf and go boating, but to run businesses and invest in real estate.
The Honeycomb building is one such investment, set to open in the first half of 2017, complete with a ground floor luxury department store, champagne bar, and art exhibition space run by international art dealer and collector José Mestre. Named for its hexagonal-shaped design, the eight-story structure was commissioned by Albany resort, which is owned by British billionaire Joe Lewis via his investment firm Tavistock Group, along with champion golfers Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
It is one small feature of the $400 million private resort community, which functions as both a golf tournament destination and vacation spot stretching over 600 acres southwest of Nassau airport. This is not Club Med, and nothing on property even remotely resembles Spring Break at Sandals. This is in part due to the fact that Albany hired some of the world’s best architects and interior designers to create it — namely Morris Adjmi architects, London-based interior designers from Finchatton, and the hotshots from BIG.
To be clear, visitors here don’t rent hotel rooms; they rent one of 75 large, oceanfront homes or designer condos for between $2,000 and $10,000 per night. Guests ride around in white golf carts from the swimming pool to the spa to the fitness center to the golf club, or to one of the many mega-yachts in the 71-slip marina, and are tended to by one of 500 staff members. It’s sunny and warm most of the time, and the main difference between this real place and the fictional utopia cast as heaven in the Albert Brooks film “Defending Your Life” is that you have to pay for the food and the tennis lessons — and the calories actually count.
It is the first time Ingels has worked with Joe Lewis’s Tavistock Group, the majority investor in Albany. But he’s already heavily involved in the resort, and told ARTINFO that the Honeycomb will soon be followed by two other BIG-designed buildings on-property, including the Cube, another condominium which is, at present, a hole in the ground not far from Honeycomb, and the Sanctuary, a state of the art recording studio designed to host professional musicians. These, he said, will take a few more years to complete. For now, Honeycomb is literally the biggest news as it is the tallest structure at Albany, its watery blue pools visible from every point of the resort.
Clearly, water conservation wasn’t their first concern. When prompted, Ingels said that these pools reflect “the qualities owners are looking for with the climatic condition in the Bahamas.” Ingels pointed out that the shade and ventilation created by these balconies naturally cools the units, reducing their need for air conditioning. It’s all the future tenants needed to hear. Each of the Honeycomb’s 34 units has already been sold.
At first glance, the Bahamas doesn’t seem like the right fit for an intrepid group of architects who normally spend their time redesigning the world’s largest cities. But Ingels isn’t known for predictability. “We believe that in order to deal with today’s challenges, architecture can profitably move into a field that has been largely unexplored.” So reads the mission statement on BIG’s website. In today’s Bahamas, profitability is an obvious factor.