The new Ayla Golfclub in Jordan includes an 18-hole course designed by Greg Norman, and a building meant not to stand out but rather blend into its arid surroundings
By Elizabeth Stamp – Photography by Rory Gardiner
Golf establishments typically have a sense of formality and tradition (and plenty of plaid). But when designing the new Ayla Golfclub in Jordan, Miami-based firm Oppenheim Architecture wanted to throw out tradition and pay homage to the spectacular setting. The club is part of the Ayla Oasis, a resort in the coastal city of Aqaba, and accompanies an 18-hole course designed by Greg Norman. “We were asked for an iconic building, and we are turned off by this quest,” says principal Chad Oppenheim. “Instead, we focused on making a profoundly silent yet dramatic structure that integrates into the landscape, and that opens ups to the surrounding mountains.”
The team was immediately captivated by the location’s dunes and the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. “We wanted human-made dunes to occupy the space,” says Oppenheim. The firm devised a curved concrete shell for the exterior, mimicking the rolling landscape beyond. “It’s a simple, elemental building,” he adds. “The structure defines the volume and shape—everything becomes one.” The building seems to rise from the desert, and curved openings frame views of the course and the mountains.
Arabic design was also a strong influence. The team put a twist on traditional mashrabiyas, or window screens, by constructing them out of Corten steel. The screens feature Jordanian motifs and allow light to filter in while maintaining privacy. They also utilized local laborers, who were trained by the firm’s European office. “Everything was constructed with only one machine that pumps cement,” Oppenheim explains. “The rest was done by hand by people who had never done this before. Our team in Switzerland were able to teach people how to do this simply and economically.”
The design of the 13,000-square-foot structure was an evolution, particularly when it came to choosing the materials. “We started to experiment with the materials in this construction process,” says Oppenheim. “We integrated minerals from the hillside. It was an iterative process, and we discovered the building process on site, building, learning, altering as we went along.”
Oppenheim says that the building’s unadorned look was very purposeful: “Ayla Golf Academy and Resort isn’t a highly polished project—we wanted soul and character.” Part of that character comes from the involvement of the local workers and craftspeople. “It was essential for us that the building was handmade—that it comes from the land and shows the soul of the people, “ he adds. “For this reason, we used very few techniques, relying on craftsmanship in the construction to show the marks of things being built by hand. The encounters and meetings we made with artisans in the region shaped our design.” The interior walls were pigmented by a local artist using minerals from the nearby hills, adding to the raw, unpolished feel of the space.
The firm had to incorporate a number of functions and technology into one building. (The clubhouse incorporates retail space, dining and lounge areas, and a spa, while the golf academy offers indoor/outdoor swing analysis in addition to dining and shopping.) The firm’s European office worked to hide ventilation and lighting systems, in order to maintain the purity of the building’s form. The international team also managed to do all of this on a strict budget. “Anyone can do an expensive building,” says Oppenheim. “We were looking to accomplish more with less. There is no hidden structure—this is a pure expression of the emotion emanating from the site.”
For Oppenheim, the ultimate goal of the building was not to stand out but to blend into its surroundings. “We feel this building is constructed with the land, not on the land,” he says. “This brings the users of the golf club and academy closer to an experience that connects them deeply with nature, heightening their surroundings of the landscape around.”