In 2016, during my road trip from Los Angeles to New York City, I had the privilege to go and spend a week shooting and exploring the Aman Resort’s hidden hideaway AMANGIRI in Southern Utah. Months after, Alpine Modern Magazine asked me to write an editorial about my whole experience of the stunning resort to go with the imagery. I thought I’d share this awakening experience.
I will never forget our slow drive along the private, paved road between colossal ridges and across vast landscapes to arrive at what I can only describe as a concrete castle hiding in the rocks of Southern Utah. Amangiri was and still is the greatest architectural experience of my life as a photographer thus far. Minimalism, texture, silhouette, all unassuming until I wandered through this artistic haven of brick and mortar.
A collaborative design by architects Rick Joy, Marwan Al-Sayed and Wendell Burnette, Amangiri is spread over an impressive 243 hectares, with 34 suites, a lounge, several swimming pools, spa, fitness centre, and a central pavilion that includes a library, art gallery, and both private and public dining areas. The three individual architects were inspired to work for legendary hotelier, Adrian Zecha, whose Aman resorts have redefined any notions of travel and luxury in epic proportions.
As we arrived at the resort, we wandered across the dramatic entrance, past the protruding canyon on the right of us, and stepped into the first ‘Breezeway’; voluminous concrete corridors that connect each pavilion to the next, framing the wondrous South-Western valleys in the distance, and creating moments of awe every time you step inside. Every half-hour, the sun hits each breezeway at a different angle, giving light and shadow new meanings on a continuous cycle from dusk till dawn. Delusions of grandeur aside, each stride in these vast hallways feels close to sublime serenity; this indescribable feeling of peace.
We are shown to our room, a one-bedroom suite situated on the edge of the property, backing onto what can only be described as a set built for a spaghetti Western; rolling tumbleweeds, the squeaks of desert mice and expeditious hares, surrounded by luminous canyons, and a distant view of Brokenarrow Cave; an indigenous, spiritual haven. Certainly a place for a creative’s maniacal mind to softly seep into a slumber.
Upon leaving our noble lodgings, the photographer in me saw it fitting to roam the grounds, Canon in hand, and admire the tranquil austerity surrounding us. Each decision made by the architect made sense; moments of monotony broken by jagged slices of deep, sweeping pastel views, polished concrete given organic texture with soft water features cascading upon the cement walls, and brief offerings of Edenic allusions in fruitful apple trees ready for the picking. It was almost impossible to realise we were only a couple hours drive from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Perspective became quite an intriguing exploration here; the architecture condenses the expansive canyons into a splinter of light between these grand, polished concrete walls. Whilst I can appreciate the misguided identification of the exteriors as clinical and potentially cold, it is that calming quality that also creates this harmonious balance between the arid landscape under a desolate Summer climate surrounding the grounds, and gentle, sombre walkways with soft flurries of wind.
Stepping inside a space at Amangiri supersedes any notions you may have had of comfort and luxe. The main Pavilion is a multipurpose space scented by fresh burning sage and sunburnt grain. The walls are mesmerising with copious Ulrike Arnold artworks implementing an abstraction from the silky textures of concrete. This space seamlessly merges textures as if designed by rhythmic dictation. Soft leathers, and animal hides, smooth oak and cement surfaces, all merging with the rough and ramble of the surrounding terrain. Colours are another new experience here. Inspired by every gradient of Southern Utah, the earthy tones and milky hues in every crevice are blended perfectly. The architects of the property were also in charge of designing all interior features; furnishings, lighting, signage, etc. In true Amangiri fashion, all elements are a reflection of the Southwestern landscape, culture and character with subtle, emblematic references to the Native American tribes that used to call Canyon Point (the location of the resort) home.
For our first meal, we were invited to sit alfresco, in what is called the ‘Desert lounge’. This rather humbling setting for a meal at dusk is certainly one for the record book. Sitting across from my friend, charging our glasses of wine, and looking out at the immense horizon surrounding us, we couldn’t speak, but simply look and listen. The silence and calm became almost divine. Whilst engulfed in this celestial space, I discovered an understated romance in the combination of architecture, nature, and food. Amangiri presents a rather auspicious collaboration of locally-sourced, farm-fresh produce and materials, with modern interpretations of Southwestern traditions. Plate after plate of these decadent, well-proportioned, and incredibly scrumptious courses continued to fill us, until we turned in for the night. First day, well spent.
From the crack of dawn, it seems Amangiri is already awake and buzzing. We were met by a car, and informed to wear suitable shoes for an adventure to come. Amangiri is situated amongst some of the continents most grandiose, and well-protected natural phenomena, and we were booked to experience one they take much pride in amongst their acreage. Harnesses on, and at the foot of their largest canyon, we set off on a Via Ferrata. Italian for ‘Iron road’. this style of climb incorporates a more modern journey for climbing, with steel cables and staples already put 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 on the ground, I can say it was one dramatic peak. Nerves aside, the top of the climb allowed me to truly experience the vastness of this beautiful space, and the fragility of this natural ecosystem. I do however recommend taking an extra few breaths before crossing their signature suspension bridge across two peaks; walking, camera in hand, it was a rather nerve-racking experience.
After the expansive climb, and other of the resorts many adventure experiences, the best decision was to spend our afternoon at the Amangiri spa. Developing this minimalist design into a more serene, spiritual experience, this adults-only oasis truly redefined the very concepts of relief. Offering many treatments and alternative means of comfort and calm, I spent most of my time self-reflecting in their Persian-salt filled floating cave. 30-minutes of pure, unassuming bliss, resting on the surface of tepid water, scored by calming meditational melodies in the background has become my idea of elegant content. The spa additionally features a steam room, sauna, ice-cold plunge pool, masseuses, and a stone-lined step pool situated in the very centre of a protruding canyon.
Much like my full experience of Amangiri, as I slowly drive past this concrete marvel, through their obtrusive acreage, and past a nearby private plane landing in the distance, I begin to appreciate the sheer magnitude of what my week was like staying here. The space has inspired a new found understanding of lines, and light, and a greater comprehension of that relationship between nature, and man-made creations. I am forever grateful to the sincere and special international staff working there and giving me the best experience possible. I yearn for another visit, hopefully in my not to distant future.