There is glamping, and then there is Utah’s Camp Sarika, which stands in a class of its own.
Travel + Leisure, It List 2021–Best New Hotels in the World
Glamping at Amangiri—what else is there to say? Flawlessly outfitted, the 10 canvas-topped pavilions at this extraordinary camp are each an ode to the extraordinary desert surroundings.
Architectural Digest, AD’s 2021 Hotel Awards
Amangiri: The world’s most glamorous campsite is in the Utah desert. The luxury desert retreat favoured by the Kardashians, Natalie Portman and Leonardo di Caprio has added a tented camp to its offering.
The Times UK
Camp Sarika is the luxury tented camp experience a short, dusty drive from the prestigious Amangiri resort through Utah’s red-rock country. A solitary, untouched tensile architecture outpost in the desert where the west is still wild, Sarika was hoped to be a novel “glamping” guest experience at this exclusive resort. However, the Amangiri ownership had run into a tangle of development issues, from wind deterioration of early tent models to climate comfort issues and, ironically for the Utah desert, persistent problems with damp.
Working closely with the Amangiri leadership the Tenthouse Structures team took on a comprehensive back-to-the-drawing-board brief to form-find, engineer, supply, and install all the tensile membrane roofing structures and steel frame modeling Camp Sarika required to position it as a ultra-luxury tented experience of distinction and taste.
The finished structure needed to be as lightweight and energy-efficient as possible, and match the uncompromising luxury aesthetics of the larger Amangiri resort. A prototype was also needed at the site to provide detailing proofs, test-drive performance capabilities and optimize construction work. A significant departure and “leveling-up” from what you might call a “glamping experience” Amangiri’s Camp Sarika is the result of a masterclass in collaborative effort by an accomplished team of designers, local engineers, and manufacturing and construction teams. Camp Sarika has earned its place as, what one publication calls, “the ultimate luxury desert retreat,” and remains a study in designed-to-site, remote resort tensile architectural installations.
Technical challenges abound at Camp Sarika, from winds that exceed 90mph (145kmph) to snow loads of 6lbs/f² (29.29kg/m²). Located in exposed terrain with soaring daytime temperatures that range from 5°F (-15°C) to 113°F (45°C) and complex patterns of wind funneling through the surrounding canyons, the site presents unusually complex challenges for resort engineering teams seeking lightweight tensile solutions to complement the luxury resort experience. The highly specific Utah state building codes added another layer of complexity to the project influencing frame engineering specifications, cable support elements, membrane fabrics, as well as the size, shape, and detailing of the structure–even down to the deflection behaviors of the membranes themselves.
MEETING THE BIONIC DESIGN CHALLENGES THROUGH TORSO AND CONFECTION
Camp Sarika required a flat roof, out of view of the main hotel structure. However, a shallow roof angle and membrane deflection could lead to “ponding” and the membranes making contact with the structures beneath. The more curvature in a tensile roof, the more ability the structure has to resist live loads. Seemingly small details like this would come to influence everything about the final structure, from fabric selection and reinforcement techniques to guest access and views from the suites. These particular challenges were overcome through an ingenious technique that saw the reduction of the height of the perimeter masts, whilst introducing under-fabric cables to support dramatic scalloped edges to the membranes themselves.
The distinctive specialization that is the core of Tenthouse Structures is the design and engineering of technical fabrics into high-performance cladding, screens, and membranes. The welding and stitching of these highly technical performance fabrics require a suite of specialized confection skills, not to mention a thoroughgoing understanding of tarso. Simply put, tarso is the engineering and design of connection points in tensile membrane structures. Tarso is critical because it affects the entire structure’s stability, durability, ease of installation and maintenance, aesthetics, and ultimately its cost. Where tarso and confection meet in an engineering project like Camp Sarika is in the complex vector aligned connection systems, the system of swaged tensile cables, the high-tensile steel U-bolts, specialized washers, and fabric reinforcement techniques are all brilliantly brought together within one simple, actionable, built-to-site tensile architectural design.
THE TENSILE AESTHETIC AND HIGH PERFORMANCE FRAME
The roof, ceiling, and wall systems at Camp Sarika are comprised of three layers and three different fabric choices. The THS design studio collaborated closely with the Amangiri designers to find a neutral palette that could blend with the colors Utah desert as well as the luxury interiors specified by the interior designers.
The outer membrane is made from architectural PVC and needed to share an aesthetic with the technical canvas of the second layer–the hermetic ceiling and exterior walling layer. Lastly, the interior ceilings and wall liners are textured weaves, designed specifically to augment the interior design. All of these fabrics meet stringent NFPA 701 fire retardant standards, whilst the outer and hermetic walling layers utilize heat-shield technology to block out all transmitted light energy. The interior layer–with its interior design focus–was specially developed to have the butter-soft hand of a worn duck canvas but with the high-performance abilities of synthetic yearns, allowing easy maintenance and dimensional stability.
Collaborating with a local team of structural engineers THS engineered steel roof trusses and piston masts fitted to a timber sub-frame, while outriggers tie into submerged timber footings, creating a homogeneous tensile system. Site-survey information was used by the engineering team to re-calibrate the tensile membrane system design to ‘as built’, pre-manufacture and assembly.
Tensile membrane engineering is a very precise, unforgiving discipline. Camp Sarika’s luxury tented camp required all the canvas cladding and linings to connect to a timber stud wall envelope involving the additional complications of lace-tensioned ceilings, top-fitted wall- and ring-beam profiles, canvas-clad corner trims, and eave valence systems all resolved, built to code and working in harmony.
MANAGING TRICKY LOGISTICS IN A LUXURY TENTED CAMP
With so many moving parts to consider, from the daily conversion of metric units to imperial, the maintaining of local building code regulations, and ensuring six separate teams spread across as many time zones remained on point and in contact one would expect a strong hand on the logistical rudder. One of the remarkable strengths of the Tenthouse Structures studio is the management of the international logistical supply chain across the many stages of transportation (consolidation, export manifests, freighting, debunking) through construction site servicing (storage, programming, crew supervision. tensile rigging, fitment and snagging) to bring a complex and detailed project like this to fruition. Camp Sarika which saw multiple local and international teams striving together within a convivial and collaborative atmosphere to create a true landmark of wilderness resort experiences.
Science. Engineering. Architecture. Design. Logistics and collaboration. These are the professional, high-tensile cables underpinning THS’s tensile architecture at Camp Sarika. A part science, part unique vision, and part true engineering grit. However, the real artfulness of this luxury tented camp project only comes into perspective once you take a step back, to survey this untouched, 900-acre sprawl of red-rock, wild-west country spread across the majestic Colorado Plateau. You will be hard-pressed to find the camp amidst the canyons, mesas, ridges, and gorges. The striking modernist suites of Amangiri and the tented pavilions of Camp Sarika blend seamlessly with their environment, offering an inspiring welcome to one of the world’s most dramatic, secluded, and technologically advanced settings.