Through his lense and all his senses, Australian photographer Jake Weisz (@jakeling) experiences the calm luxe and the raw surrounding nature of Southern Utah’s Amangiri Resort, where minimalist architecture in monochromatic concrete lies below the buttes and mesas of Canyon Point.
After an unforgettable, slow drive along a private, paved road between colossal ridges and across vast landscapes, we arrived at what I can only describe as a concrete castle hiding in the rocks of Southern Utah. Amangiri was and remains the greatest architectural experience of my life as a photographer. Minimalism, texture, silhouette… all unassuming until I wandered through this artistic haven of concrete walls.
A collaborative design by architects Rick Joy (Tucson, Arizona), Marwan Al-Sayed (Hollywood, California) and Wendell Burnette (Phoenix, Arizona), Amangiri spreads over 600 acres (243 hectares), with 34 suites and a four-bedroom mesa home, a lounge, several swimming pools, spa, fitness center and a central pavilion that includes a library, art gallery, and both private and public dining areas. The architects were commissioned by legendary hotelier Adrian Zecha, whose Aman Resorts have redefined luxury travel in epic proportions.
Arriving at the resort
We wandered across the dramatic entrance, past the protruding canyon on the right and stepped into the first breezeway, one of numerous voluminous concrete corridors that connect each pavilion to the next, framing the valleys in the distance and creating different moments of awe every time you step inside. Throughout the day, the sun hits each breezeway at different angles, giving light and shadow new meaning, in a continuous cycle from dawn until dusk. Impressions of grandeur aside, with each stride deeper into these grand hallways, I felt closer to sublime serenity; this indescribable feeling of peace.
We were shown to our room, a one-bedroom suite on the edge of the property, backing to what at first glance reminded me of a set built for a spaghetti Western: rolling tumbleweeds, the squeaks of desert mice, expeditious hares scurrying about, the scene set against luminous canyons and a distant view of Broken Arrow Cave, an indigenous, spiritual sanctuary. Certainly the right place for a creative’s maniacal mind to softly seep into a slumber.
“Certainly the right place for a creative’s maniacal mind to softly seep into a slumber.”
After some rest in our noble lodgings, the photographer in me yearned to roam the grounds, Canon in hand, and to capture the tranquil austerity surrounding us. Being here, each of the architects’ decisions made sense. Moments of monotony broken by jagged slices of deep, sweeping pastel views. The polished concrete’s organic texture caressed by soft waterfalls cascading down the walls. Brief Edenic allusions in fruitful apple trees, ripe for the picking. To grasp we were only a couple hours’ drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, was almost impossible.
Perspective became an intriguing exploration. The architecture condenses expansive canyons into splinters of light and landscape between these grand, polished concrete walls. Rather than being clinical or cold, as unknowing observers might reckon from afar, the stark concrete structure’s monochromatic elegance creates harmonious balance between the arid landscape in a desolate summer climate and shadowed walkways affording gentle breezes of desert wind.
“Perspective became an intriguing exploration. The architecture condenses expansive canyons into splinters of light and landscape between these grand, polished concrete walls.”
Fortress of luxe
Stepping inside Amangiri superseded any notions I had of comfort and luxe. The main pavilion is a multipurpose common area scented by burning fresh sage and sunburned grain. On the walls, copious Ulrike Arnold artworks implement abstraction from the concrete’s silky texture. The interior seamlessly merges textures as if designed by rhythmic dictation. Soft leathers and animal hides, smooth oak and cement surfaces all amalgamate with the rough, rambling terrain that surrounds the resort.
I experienced color in this place like never before—the perfectly blended gradient changes from earth tones to milky hues. The architects of Amangiri also designed all interior features; furnishings, lighting, signage… all the elements reflect the Southwestern landscape and culture with subtle, emblematic references to the Native American tribes that once inhabited Canyon Point.
Dining at dusk
The Amangiri invited us to take our first meal alfresco in the Desert Lounge, a rather humbling setting for our dinner at dusk. Sitting across from my friend, charging our glasses of wine and looking out at the immense horizon, overcome with divine silence and calm, we couldn’t speak but simply look and listen. Within this celestial space, I discovered an understated romance in the combination of architecture, nature, and food. Amangiri presents a rather auspicious combination of locally sourced, farm-fresh produce and materials with modern interpretations of Southwestern traditions. Plate for plate, the decadent courses filled us, until we turned in for the night. First day, well spent.
“Within this celestial space, I discovered an understated romance in the combination of architecture, nature, and food.”
An early adventure
From the crack of dawn, Amangiri had been already awake and buzzing. We were informed to wear shoes suitable for an adventure and were later met by a car. Amangiri sits among some of the continent’s most grandiose, well-protected natural phenomena, and we were booked to experience one the resort is very proud to have on its land. At the foot of the largest of the canyons, they put us in climbing harnesses before we set off on a Via Ferrata, Italian for “Iron road.” This modern style of climbing journey involved steel cables and staples already in place for a more protected climb. The concept is to give inexperienced climbers the ability to enjoy rather dramatic and difficult peaks. And now, with my feet firmly back on the ground, I can say, the peak was indeed spectacular. Nerves aside, climbing to the top allowed me to truly experience the vastness of this beautiful place and the fragility of this natural ecosystem. I do, however, recommend taking an extra few breaths before crossing Amangiri’s signature suspension bridge between two peaks. Walking across with my camera was a rather nerve-racking experience.
After that intense climb and exploring more of the resort’s outdoor adventures, the best decision was to spend our afternoon at the Amangiri Spa. The minimalist design of this serene adults-only oasis manifested the very concepts of relief. Instead of receiving a massage treatment, I spent most of my time self-reflecting in the floating cave’s Persian salt pool. 30 minutes of pure and simple bliss, resting on the surface of tepid water, scored by meditation melodies has become my new idea of elegant content.
Departing to return
Our departure was suitingly emblematic of our entire experience at Amangiri. As we unhurriedly drove past the minimalist concrete marvel, through the resort’s expansive acreage and past a private plane landing nearby, I began to appreciate the sheer magnitude of my weeklong stay here. The space has inspired a newfound understanding of lines and light, and a greater comprehension of the relationship between nature and man-made creations. As I left, I already longed to return. △