In the Xiangshawan Desert, a remote stretch of dunes in Inner Mongolia, about 350 miles west of Beijing, an architectural lotus recently blossomed: the Desert Lotus Hotel, that doesn’t seem like a particularly convenient place to vacation. The hotel is part of a new resort built amid a vast sea of sand dunes, increasingly popular with Chinese tourists, close tot he city of Baotou, that mines more than half of the world’s rare earth minerals.
Nestled in the dunes, the resort hosts Mongolian-themed performances, camel rides, desert surfing, and more. Xiangshawan is also known as the “Resonant Sand Gorge”, as the composition of its dunes make them “singing sands”, which can produce a roaring or booming sound when disturbed, a natural phenomenon still not fully understood.
Building a resort in the sand dunes is not easy, and the architecture firm PLaT Architects managed to solve some of the structural challenges with no traditional foundation. No cement or water was used during construction, but it rests on a flat metal base filled with sand that keeps it stable. Inside its prefab frame, walls and ceilings are lined with a composite made from dune sand. Sail-like shading devices cut down on energy costs, and give the whole ziggurat-shaped complex a superficial hint of Arcostanti—the radical desert eco-community that put environmental architecture on the map in the 1970s.
Getty Images photographer Feng Li spent a few days at the resort last month, returning with the images from Xiangshawan on The Atlantic.