The curvy, silken lines of Jade Mountain Resort extend from the mountainside above Anse Chastanet, giving the impression that the 29-sanctuary enclave evolved organically from the lush volcanic slope, as much a part of the natural landscape as the formidable Pitons that stand proud in Jade Mountain’s viewshed.
The sight of the dual peaks, their craggy sharpness softened by verdant carpets of green, begs for pause and causes emotions to stir. During the design process of the iconic resort, Jade Mountain owner and architect Nick Troubetzkoy aimed to provide a haven that inspired the same passionate response while framing a view of the powerful Pitons from each and every sanctuary. The process by which the Caribbean’s most innovative resort came to be is nearly as fantastical as the finished product itself.
It began with Troubetzkoy’s arrival to Saint Lucia in 1970, when he came to work for a Canadian architectural firm based on the island. As it turned out, the architect would become so enamoured with the island’s natural beauty, the warmth and character of its people, and the unlimited potential to create something very special, that he decided to stay indefinitely.
In 1974, when Troubetzkoy first encountered the property that is now home to Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, a handful of small bungalows was nestled in the rainforest, spread across about five acres. Guest amenities consisted of four plastic lounge chairs with aluminum umbrellas, and a woman who met visitors at the bottom of the stairs leading to the beach with a cooler stocked with Cokes and a bottle of local rum. A strong drink and conversation with the charmingly hospitable Saint Lucian woman paired beautifully with the setting, but the occupancy rate at the bungalows remained low, and repeat guests were unheard of.
“Almost immediately, the new approach of breaking through to the outside world proved successful,” says Troubetzkoy. “People who came to stay felt as though they were really a part of their tropical surroundings. Our guests soaked in the views, breathed the fresh clean air deeply and found release, relief, and comfort.” And so Anse Chastanet was born, an extension of the original property and a tribute to Saint Lucia’s remarkable beauty and tranquillity. The resort’s suites leaned toward Classic Caribbean in design, spread across the property from down by the beach to up in the hillsides. Each suite possesses its own unique character, with one unifying feature—an openness to the surroundings that fosters a feeling of connection to the environment.
“To do things in any other way when faced with such natural beauty just never made sense to me,” says Troubetzkoy. Almost immediately after opening Anse Chastanet’s rooms to Saint Lucia’s cleansing breezes, gentle warmth, and majestic natural beauty, the architect noticed a curious phenomenon—he saw far fewer guests meandering about the property. When Troubetzkoy asked the guests why they were spending so much time in their rooms, the responses confirmed that his “one with nature” design had struck a chord with the resort’s visitors. “They replied that they were simply relaxing, breathing in the air, basking in the surroundings and enjoying a wonderful sense of calm and peace,” says Troubetzkoy.
“What I really wanted to do with Jade Mountain was reevaluate and redesign the basic concept of a holiday hotel experience,” Troubetzkoy says. “I wanted to create individualised spatial environments that would enable guests to forget about the fact that they’re in a hotel room—in essence, to forget about everything but experiencing the psychology of the space on an emotional, almost spiritual level. Jade Mountain was envisioned as an organic expression that would reflect and amplify its tropical setting, reinforced by the improvisational manner in which it was designed and built. It is my attempt to bring to life a structure that looks, feels, and is a work of sculptural, environmental, and elementally indigenous art.”
The Building Process
“Improvisational” is not a word that’s typically associated with the design-build process. Structures are sketched, planned, engineered, and fully imagined before construction begins. But Jade Mountain is no ordinary work of architecture. Troubetzkoy wanted the natural environment to be a big part of the guest experience at his new resort, and as such, the site’s surroundings guided the design from the very start. The setting would also prove to present one of the design process’ most formidable challenges—the steepness of the site coupled with Troubetzkoy’s desire to ensure premium views of the mighty Pitons.
“The site for Jade Mountain was chosen because of the way we could orient the structure toward the view of the Pitons, the sea, and the coastline, a prime confluence that could only be achieved on this extremely precipitous part our mountainside,” the architect says. To perfectly frame the picturesque Pitons, it was decided the resort would be six sanctuaries wide, meaning the resort’s footprint would have to move vertically up the hillside. The building’s placement on the mountain was a direct reflection of the land’s topography.
Another major factor during Jade Mountain’s construction was Troubetzkoy’s Anse Chastanet, located very nearby on the same hillside and fully occupied year-round. The desire for the most unobtrusive building process possible led to the founding of the architect’s own full-fledged construction company, giving him and his team complete control at all times. The effort proved worthy, as Anse Chastanet continued to operate during Jade Mountain’s construction with virtually no guest complaints or loss of business.
Troubetzkoy’s team was able to conduct an effectively silent construction process due in part to the complete absence of concrete trucks, as the site proved too steep for the large, heavy vehicles to traverse. Incredibly, each of the tens of thousands of cubic yards of concrete was prepared in small batches in household-sized concrete mixers scattered around the site on small ledges carved out of the hillside, then “delivered” by means of chutes and wheelbarrows, and poured by hand into the framework.
As some of the island’s strongest and most skilled construction workers created the resort with incredible means, the design remained in flux, constantly reimagined and reengineered in reaction to the landscape. Jade Mountain is entirely original because of the way it responds to its site. In fact, the final refinement of the design only began to unfold during the construction process. Forms were created in which to place steel and pour concrete one level at a time, inspiring improvisation as construction moved upward. The structure evolved incrementally; for every forward design step made, Troubetzkoy and his team were forced to be very careful with each future step, making the best decision possible for the next level, requiring intense and constant site supervision. Sight lines were examined with viewpoints in mind as each level was formed, and the design unfolded, the building growing floor by floor, a veritable sculpture of flowing shapes made of reinforced concrete.
“It was an incredible process that called on hundreds of very determined workers all drawn from the local community,” Troubetzkoy recalls. “They put in thousands of backbreaking hours in building the forms and mixing and pouring the concrete. It was remarkable. On the one hand, we had this unusual, improvisational design and engineering work going on each step of the way, with all sorts of lively give and take amongst some brilliant and creative people. On the other, we had the toughest labour force in the Caribbean crawling all over the mountainside, constructing Jade Mountain one plank, one nail and one shovel’s worth of sand, cement, gravel and concrete at a time. For much of the project, it really did seem as though we were attempting the impossible.”
The sand and gravel used in Jade Mountain’s concrete were drawn from the property itself, processed in on-site mining and rock-crushing stations. The rose-grey, hand-split stone-cladding material used throughout was also sourced from Jade Mountain’s estate, and materials that couldn’t be found in Saint Lucia were imported from Caribbean neighbours—blush-coloured coral plaster finishes were found in Barbados, and an array of coral tiles arrived from the Dominican Republic. Even the water that eventually filled the pools came from Jade Mountain’s own system of reservoirs. All of the resort’s woodwork and many furnishings were made right in Saint Lucia using dense tropical hardwoods harvested in Guyana, where Troubetzkoy and his team travelled to personally survey the trees that were to be harvested using principles of sustainable forestry. Even the resort’s name was an extension of, and a tribute to, the island environment. “Those two magnificent mountains draped in rainforest green have always looked to me as though they’d been carved out of jade,” Troubetzkoy says.
The intensity of Jade Mountain’s arduous design build process has given way to utter peace and tranquillity. Guests reach their rooms, called “sanctuaries” at Jade Mountain, via “bridges to infinity”—long, suspended, elevated, dramatic private bridges—rather than amble through enclosed hallways. Sanctuary ceilings are 15 feet high, eliminating the sense of a structure bearing down, and an entire wall was eliminated from each sanctuary, inviting Saint Lucia’s natural glory inside.
In a sense, Troubetzkoy knew better than the guests themselves the kind of setting required for true relaxation. “Even the bathroom facilities and tubs are open to the environment, which still stirs up some controversy, but it is something most people seem to get used to easily, thanks to the privacy and seclusion of the setting,” he says. “The air one breathes here is at the very core of the Jade Mountain experience, which is why we sought to create spaces that make the mere process of breathing special. Remember, this air has been cleansed by crossing 3,000 miles of ocean before arriving to your sanctuary.”
Water is the second element that’s paramount to the guest experience at Jade Mountain. Each sanctuary invites guests to immerse themselves in their own vanishing-edge pool, raised 18 inches above floor level, allowing you to lounge on pillows at the water’s edge or casually run your hand through the water from your chair. The multi-coloured, iridescent, reflective glass tiles transform these sleek bodies of water into a genuine work of art.
“They appear as watery, oriental carpets of light floating in space—surreal tapestries of colour that entertain the senses without competing with the magnificent, omnipresent views of the Pitons just beyond each room,” says Troubetzkoy. “The pools are subtly dynamic as a counterpoint to the static presence of the awesome green mountains. Individually, each glass tile is a complex optical element that manipulates light in a sophisticated manner to create colours. As laid out collectively at Jade Mountain, a field effect is created by having the tiles operate as a visual whole. On that level, Jade Mountain may be the world’s largest installation of optical, environmental art fully integrated into its surrounding architecture.” Much as Jade Mountain evolved through its design and construction process, the resort continues to transform. Greenery will eventually drape the building, allowing it to recede into the jungle home that played so heavily on its form. The end result will remain a space, an experience, that gives guests an ethereal, spiritual lift, like the welcoming Saint Lucian woman and her beachside cooler did many decades ago.
“Jade Mountain embodies a task so large that it will probably never be ‘finished’ in some respects, but I’m comfortable with that,” Troubetzkoy says. “I take great pleasure in seeing it as a grand, organic work of art growing in the landscape, and I treasure the restlessness that’s involved with a project of this scope and complexity. Most of all, I prize the spirit of ongoing creation that has for me always been the heart of this beautiful place. If we captured a portion of the island’s beauty and quality of life in our work here and can share it with visitors, then I think we’ve done something of real value.”
Preserving the Mountain
Nature gave rise to Jade Mountain’s design, so it’s only fitting that the iconic resort pays homage to its natural setting with systems and practices that are gentle on Saint Lucia’s environment. It can be difficult to merge the expectations of guests at a high-end resort with sustainable operations, but from the start, this has been part of Jade Mountain’s ethos. The resort’s very architecture has eliminated the need for energy-consuming air conditioning in its sanctuaries. Tradewinds are cooled while passing over each sanctuary’s private infinity-edge pool, before drifting inside via the sanctuaries’ “missing” fourth wall.
Of course, using water as a means of cooling can be counterproductive, as sourcing and pumping water on a small island with limited resources is often a problematic affair requiring large amounts of energy. During Jade Mountain’s construction, owner/architect Nick Troubetzkoy learned that Soufriere, the community in which the resort operates, would have to shut off the water supply to parts of the town each day in order to pump water to the resort.
“We did not want this to be the case, and through a mix of good fortune and ingenuity we were able to harvest and produce all of our water needs,” Troubetzkoy explains. More than two centuries earlier, the French occupants of the land, which was then used as a sugarcane plantation, built a reservoir to capture the water needed to power their mill. Troubetzkoy’s team brought back to life the historical reservoir and the aqueducts that fed it; from the reservoir, the water is pumped to the hilltop above Jade Mountain, where it’s purified via an ultra-filter membrane system, then gravity fed down to the resort, requiring no power for distribution. The wastewater generated by the resort is also carefully mitigated.
“We chose to emulate Nature’s way of resolving waste and water contamination,” says Troubetzkoy of Jade Mountain’s three-acre reed-bed system. Spread out over two terraces of 12 chambers, each containing beds of mixed gravels and sands and planted with water hyacinth lilies, the reed-bed system breaks down the wastewater, resulting in a “polished effluent,” clear water rich in anaerobic bacteria, which is used for irrigation at the resort. Coupled with Jade Mountain’s use of LED lighting throughout, the resort consumes an average of 22 kWh per guest per night—less than half the industry standard power expectation for a high-end resort in the Caribbean.
Green building might be trendy buzzwords these days, but during Jade Mountain’s construction, building with respect to the environment wasn’t on many people’s radar. Several of the sustainability awards that Jade Mountain has garnered, from organizations such as Travelife and TripAdvisor, weren’t even established until after the resort was completed, a clear example of Troubetzkoy’s forward thinking in terms of sustainable architecture and the future of design.
In 2016, the resort was given the LEED Gold award, an accolade that’s very difficult to achieve, and this green building rating system dubbed Jade Mountain the highest rated hotel, resort, and hospitality building in all of the Caribbean. “This is a very impressive accomplishment for such a unique project, and we congratulate you and your team on implementing some pioneering, non-traditional approaches to the LEED prerequisites and credits,” the Green Building Council adjudicators stated in extending the award.