Buildings lotus hotel in the sand

Published on February 21st, 2013 | by Chris Milton


The Hotel Which Floats On Sand

February 21st, 2013 by  

Hidden away in the Gobi Desert is “the bay of sand”, Xiangshawan.  It’s a popular tourist destination for China’s newly rich adrenaline junkies, with huge dunes making it is a perfect playground for driving Jeeps and quad bikes at reckless speeds.

lotus hotel in the sand

However it’s also 500 miles from Beijing and has relentlessly shifting sands. To make life even more challenging the average temperature shifts from 85°F in the summer to 2°F in the winter (sand dunes in the snow are a beautiful sight!) and can alter by over 20°F in one day .

This is what faced PLaT architects when they started designing the Lotus Hotel, another green hotel for the future.  They threw away all the unsustainable bricks and concrete which blight most new developments and brought in materials and techniques to support low carbon construction, whilst using the local resources to produce a genuinely low impact hotel.

An ingenious skeleton distributes the hotel’s weight through its walls, rather than directly onto its floors, while underneath a system of containers allows the sand to move under and around the hotel while it stays in a relatively fixed position.

Embedded within the structure are a number of cutting edge solar, wind and water generation technologies which provide power and heating by maximizing the energy generating potential of the temperature variations.

In addition, the tiered nature of the building allows it to provide natural shading whilst its roofs are shaped to gather dew, snow and rainwater and channel it into the building’s water system.  This cleans and circulates as much waste water as possible meaning the hotel is a fully self sufficient system for both water and energy.

The hotel itself is only the first step for Xiangshawan and PLaT architects.  The entire area is now under development using the same ecologically friendly template to create a low carbon, zero-impact luxury holiday retreat in the desert.

Getting the resources to build this will be relatively easy: less than an hour’s travel away is the industrial town of Baotou, whose Bayan Obo mines produce nearly half of the world’s rare earth metals.

Which could provide the “why” behind building this development in the first place.  As rare earth metals become more and more important Baotou is likely to attract both visitors and a more highly paid workforce.  Perhaps this will eventually turn into another city in the sand, maybe even the Chinese equivalent of a cleantech Silicon Valley like Masdar.  Only time will tell.

lotus hotel in the sand snow

All pictures courtesy of PLaT architects /


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About the Author

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.

  • beernotwar

    This is really great, but one question is left unanswered: “What about poo?” Are they turning the Gobi into the biggest litter box in the world? :O

    • Haha, they’re not telling 🙂 There’s plenty of composting technologies out there so maybe a few centuries from now the desert will be blooming?!

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