Amble Resorts’ Premier Eco-Development Featured on GotSaga: Exclusive Interview with Benjamin Loomis
At the intersection of the natural world and the man-made world is sustainable design: an elegant expression of simplicity and functionality that allows humans to live respectfully within their natural surroundings.
By growing my understanding of sustainable design and architecture, I’ve gained a better sense of how this philosophy makes beautiful, low-impact lifestyles possible in all sorts of different environments.
Working for the eco-development company Amble Resorts gives me the chance to see environmentally-conscious design in action. I’m privy to a behind-the-scenes look at principles of sustainable design being used on Isla Palenque, the island home of Amble’s premier eco-resort in Panama. The company’s founder and president (and my boss) Benjamin Loomis has over twenty years of experience in the architecture, construction, and real estate industries; he studied sustainable building practices extensively in college, and he keeps up with new trends and innovations as they arise.
I recently unleashed my curiosity about sustainable design on Ben:
For starters, what’s the purpose of sustainable design?
Benjamin Loomis: Sustainable design is about relating people with their natural environment. We’re actually trying to take this a step further by immersing people in the natural environment on Isla Palenque. And since the island comprises 400 acres of pristine jungle and beach ecosystems, it was paramount that we preserve the natural environment while creating structures that would allow our guests to get up close and personal with the nature and wildlife.
What about Isla Palenque made you decide to build an eco-resort there? Was there a defining moment or specific discovery?
BL: No, there wasn’t a specific moment or discovery as far as deciding to build an eco-resort, because in 2007 I went searching for properties with the goal of building an eco-resort in mind. I knew I wanted a spectacular location in which people would realize ecological significance through travel. I scouted out a number of different properties in Central America before finding Isla Palenque, and its unspoiled wilderness reminded me that luxury isn’t what you build – luxury is being immersed in nature in a comfortable way.
Did you set goals for sustainability before you began planning the eco-development?
BL: We wanted to leave most of the island’s 400 acres completely untouched, most especially the raw, untamed jungle and lagoon ecosystems. A portion of the island had been previously cleared for cattle, so the development is most concentrated there. That way we don’t have to do any intrusive clearing. I’m happy to say that our master plan allows for about 95% of the wilderness on Isla Palenque to remain unbuilt and well over two-thirds of it completely undisturbed, and you can see this plan in action on our construction site today – the trees stand tall while construction happens between them.
For those of us who are first learning about sustainable design, what are some key terms to know?
BL: I think concepts are more important than terms, especially since many of the “eco” terms we use today have taken on commercial definitions that weren’t part of their original meaning.
That being said, eco-development is an important one. Eco-development is a broad “umbrella” concept that involves a core commitment to environmental and cultural sustainability.
There’s some overlap between eco-development and sustainable design, but these concepts do not correlate in a simple linear or hierarchical fashion. For instance, an urban building can incorporate principles of sustainable design, but would not be considered an example of eco-development. And eco-development goes beyond just design strategies.
Another term you’ll hear when sustainable design is being discussed: passive design. Passive design techniques are strategies to achieve human comfort through building design and layout, as opposed to more “active” (i.e. “mechanical”) means such as heating systems or A/C. Passive design techniques are a subset of sustainable design strategies.
What’s a common misconception people have about sustainable design?
BL: Actually, most people are unfamiliar with the concepts I’ve just mentioned, so there’s not much opportunity for misconceptions to arise. However, I can say that when first told about our design philosophy, a lot of people seem to think it would be difficult or impossible to achieve thermal comfort without using HVAC systems.
We think our guests will be impressed by how effective passive cooling strategies can be when they don’t feel the need to use the A/C in their guestroom because the ocean breezes and shade are taking care of it naturally.
On the other hand, an extreme climate like Panama’s really puts passive design strategies to the test, given its heat and humidity – so their skepticism is not wholly unjustified.
What do you appreciate most about sustainable design?
BL: I like that we can blur the boundaries between what is “designed” or “built” and what is natural. It allows us to create structures that work with the existing landscape, and bring people closer to their environment through the spaces they inhabit.
It takes creativity and problem-solving to embrace sustainability as your design ethic, and I enjoy the challenge of responding to the site and to external forces.
It’s fun to work for a company whose mission is to answer to those who are endlessly curious about the world. Because as you can see from my questions, I had a lot to learn about sustainable design. With any artistic endeavor – whether it’s architecture & design, literature & writing, or film & cinematography – delving deeper often reveals a world of meaning that you never knew existed. And when it comes to eco-development, the often subtle but powerful ways that sustainable design allows us to live in harmony with our environments is worth appreciating. Who can argue with living beautifully while preserving the beauty of the wilds?