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The new El Cosmico project by Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON, and Liz Lambert

Liz Lambert on the Expanded, 3D-Printed El Cosmico in Marfa

Liz Lambert Reimagines El Cosmico

Across 21 acres of desert landscape in Marfa, Texas, a collection of yurts, vintage trailers, and traditional teepees make up El Cosmico. The bohemian hotel and off-grid campground first opened in 2009, imagined by the hospitality and design visionary Liz Lambert to celebrate the regional landscape and community. She brought in locally made goods, quintessential Western design, and cultural programming, including an annual arts and music festival named the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love. Like Lambert’s other projects that reflect their locality, including six Bunkhouse hotels, the original El Cosmico successfully mirrored Marfa as a center for art, nature, and hospitality.

Now over a decade later, Lambert is teaming up with two architectural forces—Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and the pioneering 3D printing company ICON—with a plan to relocate and expand El Cosmico into a 60-acre site. Breaking ground next year, the hotel and condo project details an innovative cluster of large-scale 3D-printed domes and parabolic forms, creating guest rooms in which the creative culture and minimalistic environment of Marfa converge with new amenities and resources, like a restaurant, pool, bathhouse, and an arts and crafts workshop space.

Liz Lambert Portrait of Liz Lambert by Nick Simonite.

Whitewall spoke with Lambert about how El Cosmico’s rebuild remains inspired by the cosmos and what 3D printing technology can bring to sustainable, affordable, and responsible building.

Art, Nature, and Hospitality at Home with El Cosmico

El Cosmico 2018 El Cosmico pre-renovation, photo by Nick Simonite.

WHITEWALL: El Cosmico has built a legacy at the intersection of art, nature, and hospitality. Why this trifecta?

LIZ LAMBERT: The counterculture idea of getting back to the land and learning self-sufficiency has always been interesting to me. Marfa was a natural fit for exploring this idea—a place where you could get away from all the distractions of city life, get your hands dirty, and take time to make something or learn a new skill. You can sit still, gaze at the night sky, and spend an afternoon lying in a hammock. Marfa also has a fascinating history of drawing artists to it. It’s easy to be inspired in this majestic landscape.

WW: The new El Cosmico will feature atypical structures and construction. Why was this creative thinking important to the concept?

LL: Something that appealed to ICON and BIG about El Cosmico was the chance to explore unconventional shapes and designs. Unlike other 3D-printed housing construction projects that mirror the classic box shape we’ve always used in building, this is a chance to let our imaginations run wild and play with these curves. One of the things we’re playing with is in the domed shape tops to some of the structures. ICON has figured out how to engineer curved walls, but rethinking the tops of the buildings is happening in real time at El Cosmico. It’s a living laboratory for seeing what the technology can do, and it’s fitting that our little cosmic campground on earth could help shape the design of life on other planets.

A New, 3D-printed El Cosmico

WW: As you alluded to, ICON has a contract with NASA to build the first dwellings in space. How did this fact inspire you or the property’s forms?

LL: Who wouldn’t be thrilled to work with the folks designing the first houses in space? For inspiration, we often look to organic forms in nature, like nautilus and cosmic formations. The building materials used in 3D printing have beautiful striations that feel like ancient earth. There is something timeless and elemental about these structures, as if they are the product of eons of geological accretion and erosion. They also have a futuristic quality that is interesting.

The new El Cosmico project by Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON, and Liz Lambert A rendering for the new El Cosmico project by Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON, and Liz Lambert, courtesy of ICON.

WW: This form of 3D printing and building works more sustainably and efficiently than modern construction. Of what importance was the sustainability component to this new build?

LL: The question of sustainability is a big one, and very nuanced. It’s something we think about a lot. In many ways, this 3D printing creates efficiencies in the manufacture, transport, and cost of construction versus that of timber, drywall, and other traditional building materials. 3D-printed structures are more durable and resilient than stick building, too. Houses can be built more quickly and affordably, which is something we’ll need to see in the housing industry’s efforts to address the crisis of affordable housing. This technology is also new, and innovations are being made in real time to improve the materials and process to become more sustainable and efficient.

WW: An additional facet of the project is assessing the opportunity to use 3D printing to bring affordable housing to Marfa and nearby towns. How so?

LL: There is a need in Marfa for long-term affordable housing, and we’re looking at possibilities for how we can support that. We’re in the early stages of the project, but our plan is to build 3D-printed housing on the current El Cosmico site. ICON and BIG are both pioneering work in affordable housing, and it’s exciting to think about how we can work together to support the needs of the Marfa community and innovate in ways that might inspire other affordable housing projects.

WW: How was the design of the new property informed by the connection between the desert landscape and cosmic organizations?

LL: It’s hard not to think in celestial terms in West Texas. The sky is really the center point of life out here. It makes me think of the Carl Sagan quote “The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean.” In fact, this whole part of West Texas was once an ancient ocean. The trailers at El Cosmico are a sort of cosmic armada afloat in the vast expanse. This same idea will play a big role in the new property. After all, the property has “cosmic” in its name.

The new El Cosmico project by Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON, and Liz Lambert A rendering for the new El Cosmico project by Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON, and Liz Lambert, courtesy of ICON.




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