HOTEL PEVERO, COSTA SMERALDA, SARDINIA 1973-1979

The vision to purchase 35 miles of uninhabited coastline in Sardinia and develop a sustainable resort in the early 1960s belonged to the Aga Khan and a consortium he assembled. That he would seek to design a residential style hotel and ultimately hire Huygens and Tappe’ was the result of both relationships and proximity.

In 1957 after the passing of his grandfather, Prince Karim Al Hussaini, at age 20, became Aga Kahn IV, the Imam of the Nizari Ismailis. Pursuing a history degree at Harvard University, he was immediately thrust into the international spotlight. He finished his degree in 1959 and vowed to continue the work of grandfather, building modern institutions to improve the quality of life of the Nizari Ismailis.

The Aga Kahn loved fast boats and it was while pursuing this passion that he became acquainted with the unrivaled beauty and turquoise waters of what would become known as the “Costa Smeralda” or Emerald Coast on the northeast shore of Sardinia. He put together a group of six investors to purchase the land and began development of a yachting harbor to cater to the sailing culture of the Mediterranean. The video below is a captivating glimpse into the early days of the development in which the Aga Kahn discusses his vision for the Costa Smeralda.

The Aga Kahn was and is very interested in architecture and design. While at Harvard, one of his roommates was Morgan Wheelock who studied landscape architecture and later worked at Sasaki Associates. In addition, the Aga Kahn’s brother, Prince Amyn, studied landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where Hideo Sasaki was professor and chairman of the landscape architecture department. Sasaki began master planning work for the Costa Smeralda in 1968 and remained involved until the 1990s. The area around Porto Cervo (1962) and the Hotel Cala di Volpe (1963) had already been partially developed prior to the master plan. One of the consequences of the original development was the increased demand for second homes, both for European elite and local Sardinians whose wealth had grown and who could make money on the rentals.

Sasaki Master Plan

The completed accommodations included the Hotel Cervo designed by Luigi Vietti, integrated into the Porto Cervo in an “urban” location, the Hotel Cala di Volpe by French architect Jacques Couelle to the south in the tradition of the “Grand Hotel” on the bay, and the Hotel Pitrizza also by Vietti, a colony of stone grottos seemingly carved out of the hillside.

To complement the existing range of hotels and cater to American golfers coming to play the new Robert Trent Jones masterpiece, the Pevero Golf Club, the Aga Kahn imagined a hotel that was more residential in character, about the size of the Cala di Volpe at 250 rooms, and that blended into the landscape like Hotel Pitrizza. The site was a hillside above a small lake just behind the beach on the Gulf of Pevero. He asked Sasaki for a recommendation of a residential architect and Morgan Wheelock recommended Huygens and Tappe’. The firm was paired with Bill Tabler, an architect in New York responsible for many hotels in the Hilton chain including Mauna Kea in Hawaii. His role was to make sure the building functioned appropriately while Huygens and Tappe’ established the domestic scale and residential character.

THE DESIGN

The functions of the Hotel Pevero are separated in two parts: public (restaurants, sitting rooms, bars) and private (guest rooms). Each part is given a distinct character and orientation. The”public” part is conceived as a large villa, residential in scale, with tile roofs over shaded terraces. While enjoying a view of the beach and the Golfo Pevero, this section is turned towards the sun and away from the wind. The winds can play a huge role in daily comfort, depending on the direction from which they come. They are even given names like Scirocco–the wind off the desert from North Africa.

The private area is set out in small sections of guest rooms and suites, spread out over the hillside following the contours of the land and incorporating generous planted areas. The orientation here is toward the view to the Golfo Pevero. The guest rooms are private cottages with individual terraces, separated by stone walls and with balconies fringed with vine-covered trellises. Upon entering a guest room, the view is seen “head on” for the first time, giving it the greatest impact.

The 250 guest rooms are arranged in three major groups, enabling the hotel to be used in smaller or larger sections. These groups were subdivided again in smaller segments, each with approximately twelve rooms on two or three levels. Separating the segments, one above the other, are landscaped courts, terraces and roof gardens. Thus, when looking out from a typical guest room, no building would be visible below.

The team remembers presentations in the Aga Kahn’s small office next to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and daylong presentations in Sasaki’s offices, with the Aga Kahn seated at the center of a long table of development team members–like the “Last Supper” according to Tony Tappe’.  After a slide show presenting the scheme, the lights came on and there was a five foot long drawing by Terry Cracknell of the hotel on the hillside and the Aga Kahn jumped up excitedly proclaiming his enthusiasm for the proposal.

EARLY CAD

In one of the earliest uses of computer-aided design (CAD), the firm reached out to Cliff Stewart of Perry Dean Rodgers, who was an early proponent of computers in architecture, to see about reducing the cost of the sagoma.  Using their ARC I computer, they manually digitized the contours and building edges and produced the drawings below for submission to the board. The audio clip is Stuart Carter describing the process.

Remarkably, the advancements in computer and internet technologies allow us through Google Earth to go to Costa Smeralda and place ourselves on the beach looking up at the empty site of the Hotel Pevero.

As mentioned above, the growth in tourism in the previous twenty years had improved the economic conditions for the local people and they began to advocate for themselves to retain access to the environmental amenities. In the case of the Hotel Pevero, the locals wanted a path through the site to the beach. The Aga Kahn resisted this, insisting that that a private luxury hotel is not the place for a public path to the beach. Before a resolution could be reached, the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo suspended work for several years.

Design work resumed in 1979 and focused on a redesigned scheme that located the hotel lobby at the top of the hill. This would allow hotel patrons to arrive and use the hotel without having to cross a public way, which could now run along the bottom of the hill. Interestingly, you can see in the section a funicular that would ferry guests down to the beach and back up to the hotel amenities.

Unfortunately, not long after the redesign, without complete resolution to the beach access issue, the Aga Kahn moved on to other ventures and the Hotel Pevero exists only in the beautiful drawings in our files. I am left to imagine the trip to Costa Smeralda that I would have needed to inform this post, because we all know the value of experiencing a place like this in person! My partners would understand, right?