A team on which Denver’s OZ Architecture served as architect of record has been honored with an Award of Merit by ENR California for the renovation and modernization of an iconic resort in Southern California’s Death Valley National Park. Constructed by GE Johnson Construction Co./Kitchell Corp., the Oasis at Death Valley project earned the prestigious award from ENR (Engineering News-Record) in the residential/hospitality category.
At the core of the Oasis at Death Valley renovation are a design and execution that preserve the historic character of the property’s two hotels, the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley, and the unique connections the property has to its desert surroundings, with new design features and modern amenities that appeal to the sensibilities of today’s visitors, all while putting sustainability at the forefront.
The inn and ranch, owned and operated by Xanterra Travel Collection and known formerly as the Furnace Creek Resort, reopened in 2018 following the renovation, culminating six years of work by OZ Architecture’s resort-hospitality team of Rebecca Stone, Principal in Charge; Chris Vandall, Project Manager; Sevinay Kovats, Project Architect and Kellie Saylor, Project Architect. Their work began in 2012 with the first envisioning and master-planning phase and stretched through the construction phase. From the start, the Oasis at Death Valley project was highly collaborative, as the OZ team worked closely with designer Mark Nelson, interior designer Johnson David Interiors and other project partners to develop and execute a vision for the renovation.
Dubbed “North America’s only true desert oasis,” the newly revamped resort complements the dramatic desert landscape by incorporating materials and features that fit with the shifting sand dunes, multi-hued rock formations and stark mountains of the surrounding National Park. By night, the strategic use of downlighting, warm color temperature and low lighting intensities creates an optimal stargazing environment, reinforcing the property’s status as an International Dark Sky Park.
The built environments at the inn and neighboring ranch, meanwhile, transform the resort into a distinctly modern vacation destination without departing from the stylistic qualities, the historic ambiance of the inn as a railroad hotel, and the territorial architecture of the ranch that make the property an American icon. The full renovation of the elegant mission-style Inn at Death Valley brought 22 new private casitas, new amenities at the spring-fed swimming pool, an intimate dining room and bar, and a classic lobby with old California charm, all overlooking the valley, with a natural spring running through the property. The project also brought a revamped outdoor recreation area and a new event and stargazing space at the Mission Gardens. At the Ranch, the renovation and new construction consisted of new warehouse and commissary, a new registration building, restaurant, saloon, general store and retail buildings.
A variety of sustainable elements underpin the OZ execution and detailing, among them improved insulation and windows to reduce energy loss, and passive cooling practices with misters and shading. Low-water-use landscaping provides much-needed additional shading and cooling in a place where temperatures can soar above 130°F. That, combined with new, more efficient golf course irrigation and low-flow plumbing fixtures, results in no net increase in water usage, even when this reborn desert resort is swamped with visitors.