Lifescapes International

Behind the Design: Durango Casino & Resort

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From the outset of the design process, the developer and design team should establish a visual language that encapsulates their shared vision for the project’s aesthetics. Words alone may not convey the same image to everyone, given the potential for nuanced or biased interpretations. Therefore, having a mutually agreed-upon reference picture or set of pictures serves as the optimal method to prevent designers from going in different directions in their individual interpretations of the style.

For Durango Casino & Resort, a single image encapsulated the central theme from the very start. It depicts a woman delicately lifting her white sundress while dipping her feet into the pale aqua-blue waters of a shallow pool. In the near distance behind her, simple light buff-colored plaster walls enclose the space, conveying a minimalist yet inviting atmosphere. Bathed in sunlight, clusters of large silvery gray and blue-gray cacti stand as sculptural forms against the walls, their shadows adding texture to the scene. Altogether, it evokes an arid, coastal Mediterranean palette, distilled to the essence of timeless refined relaxation. This image served as the catalyst for what visitors experience today at Durango.

The Evolution

Durango Sculptural PlantingWith the initial image as a guide, more imagery came forth and the project’s design quickly took shape through a collaborative process. The minimalist vision adopted a clean, mid-century modern architectural approach, blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces. This aesthetic continuity aimed to replicate the serene ambiance of the original picture, fostering a sense of relaxation and a seamless connection to the natural elements. The landscaping became the integral sculptures and intricate details visible both from within the resort and as part of its exterior composition. The gray-green hues of the cacti echoed the overarching vision, harmonizing with the light beige, ochre-colored paving, gravel, and stone, seamlessly integrating the resort into the surrounding Mojave Desert landscape.

Palm trees growing through the structure in a nod to mid-century modern design

One of the most captivating features of the resort is the palm trees that grow up through holes in the roof, a playful homage to mid-century modernism. These living sculptures not only add a touch of greenery to the space but also serve as a reminder of the timeless beauty of nature in the midst of man-made materials.

For Al Amador, Lifescapes International’s Senior Principal and lead designer on Durango Casino & Resort, contributing to this evolution was deeply personal. It channeled his love for desert landscapes and the mid-century vernacular of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

Al’s annual excursions to the desert, particularly during Modernism Week, serve as a wellspring of inspiration. Exploring homes, gardens, and attending lectures not only enrich his soul but also feeds his creative reservoir, fueling his work at the firm. His appreciation extends to seeking out unique, often landscape-centric, art installations featured in the biennial Desert X exhibition. Additionally, visits to the magnificent desert gardens at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage continually offer fresh perspectives and insights.

The Design

Playing off the architecture’s large expansive windows, allowing sunlight and openness to stream into the casino, Al knew that the gardens would be much more than something to be seen from the outside.  Like the iconic homes of Palm Springs in the 1950s and ’60s, he aimed for the interior to seamlessly blend with the exterior, with the gardens extending their influence inward. Each restaurant offers spacious patios inviting guests to dine al fresco, basking in the warm desert breeze while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.  Additionally, custom-designed fountains impart a shimmering coolness, as their design and materials seamlessly harmonize with the building they adorn.

Durango Casino & Resort Nicco's Prime Cuts

Al takes special pride in the fountain he designed outside Nicco’s Prime Cuts and Fresh Fish. Here, an angular, ochre-patinaed Corten steel-clad fountain assumes a striking retro-inspired shape, so much so that it influenced the design of the restaurant facade behind it.

The Bel-Aire Backyard pool area presented an opportunity to encapsulate Al’s observations of classic homes in the Coachella Valley. Drawing inspiration from the iconic imagery of Slim Aarons, where sun-kissed ladies effortlessly mingle beside backyard pools with desert mountains as a backdrop, the pool area strives to evoke that same sense of elegance and leisure. Al took this vision a step further by incorporating exaggerated curved edges into the pool corners, offering a contemporary twist on amorphic pool design.

That original photograph of the woman dipping her toes in the shallow pool served as a touchstone, igniting a design style that is distinctly Durango. Rooted in timeless aesthetics yet infused with a modern sensibility, the design maintains a sense of freshness and relevance. Al’s passion for the project resonates throughout the resort, and along with the Lifescapes International team, we couldn’t be prouder of the resulting design.

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