The Dar Hi hotel, dream eco-lodge in Tunisia


Matali Crasset created an ecological house in the Tunisian desert. After the experience of the HI hotel in Nice, now Dar HI in Nefta which is the fruit of the collaboration between matali crasset, Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chapelet with a new concept of eco-retreat. Matali literally rose a citadel, from the sand, dedicated to well being.

Protected by surroundings walls you find a composition of elevated houses that constitute the Dar HI as a small village. The overall architectural goal was to give a strong proposition while in harmony with the natural site and the local life. Dar HI’s main colours are ochre and sand with a comprehensive choice of body and spirit care within areas that are private or communal, a pool, a restaurant and a Spa. The dialogue and collaboration between Philippe Chapelet, Patrick Elouarghi and matali crasset started in 2005.

They all decided to push the contemporary experience a bit further with Dar HI a new concept of hospitality and serenity. They all have a common interest always to question their ideas and the desire to conceive innovative projects; those are the main reasons why their collaboration is so dynamic. matali crasset develops a design that is meant to be practical and believes in initiatives that have a sense locally but also collectively. Patrick and Philippe are creative entrepreneurs that are always ahead of their time. They are driven by the renewal of propositions, the reinvention of codes and sites and the research on contemporary hotel industry and well being. These strong set views unite them for an intransient length of time. After Nice and the HI hotel, Paris and the HIMATIC, it is now Tunisia with Dar HI. The DARHI team has created privileged relationships with the inhabitants of the village who will be taking care of the house. The gardeners will till the garden that will be the main source of vegetables and fruits. To access the Dar HI you walk towards it and this is the beginning of your stay.

The car has been left further from the house. A discreet door leads you to imagine that you walk in a private house. The entrance, a corridor, a ramp is the last stop where you leave your “codes” at the exterior. With the surrounding wall, typical of local architecture, Dar HI follows the movement of the terrain, following the shapes of the site and emerges from the sand as a mirage citadel. Inside, the elevated houses seem to be planted into the sand and they structure the project. They are located according to their sun exposure and panorama. matali crasset designed 3 different areas: the pill houses, the troglodytes and the dunes.

The pill houses These houses have exceptional views that are all different. Some have a panorama overlooking the horizon of the salted lake, others have a view of the palm grove and its very diverse landscape. Both are very different, one is more intimate being high above the ground with a panoramic view and the other on the lower ground so more amongst the communal area. High above the ground the room is structured around a bow window, as if the view was integrated in the room. A small table to nibble or work, a large bed that hides part of the shower and toilets compose the room. Down below it is like a small village square. Everyone has a space that is protected from the sun. The square, the bar, the water point and small fountains are all places to be easily together.

The troglodytes: for a mineral experience Three areas called troglodytes with small bricks from Nefta are completely independent with their own private terraces but also linked together by a circular area from one to the other. Collective life is articulated around a small square with a small water cascade and a bread oven. These rooms can be rented entirely for a stay with friends or family. The freshness reminds of the typical troglodytes houses of Matmata. The dunes: to have the feeling of having an indoor landscape The three areas called dunes are at sand level. They are like open spaces that the wind would have sculpted. The inspiration was the bivouac that allows you to modulate your comfort as you wish. The experience of living within the dunes creating your own nest to feel closer to the desert. They are all different, one has a loggia with a natural light and an indoor garden, the other very spacious has an external terrace and a large window with a view of Nefta, the third one also very spacious and fresh. It offers a view on the date grove with an independent room and an alcove wooden terrace.

Dar HI has different communal areas that are places to meet and share. “Leaving the communal areas as open as possible, I wished to leave an easy circulation with a large potential to use the area as much as possible” says matali. The kitchen: open on the exterior It is a laboratory where you can see the cooks at work, all from Nefta village. The area is also open for the guests every hour of the day or night. There is no area dedicated for the restaurant but a large table and small tables that can be arranged. The auditorium: an area that changes according to the activities Cinema, music, rest … It has foam material seating that have the superior part that can be used as a back rest. As there are no televisions in the rooms this area allows people to gather and listen to music or watch a movie. The library: around the staircase Like a hedgehog, the staircase has wooden sticks where books are placed and easily accessible.

You can come choose a book, read it, put it back or sit comfortably to read it. The modular living area With poufs, it is a very agreeable area that you can build yourself. With alcoves, suspensions in terracotta and its chimney, it is a nice area for intimate and warm evenings. The architecture of the houses is typical with walls made of whole bricks that have a distinctive ochre colour. Roofs and house doors are made of palm wood. Patrick, Philippe and Matali wanted at first to conceive a house within the village to be in the heart of the town with its energy and spirit. They never considered to be isolated from local life on he contrary they wished their project to in the action and development of the town.

That is when the project drifted towards a sustainable development project. From the first drawings of Dar HI, matali researched a way to combine contemporary materials to local artefacts. The designer worked with local craftsman taking into account their techniques and constraints. She observed their construction technique using beams and bricks that she used in the pill houses. For the walls she chose small clay bricks that are made in Nefta. The palm tree is also transformed and reinterpreted in elements of the architecture and design within Dar HI. The gutter and recesses are reminders of the local architecture reference. The straw mattresses and the lanterns were highlighted by matali with some objects from everyday life like the carpet that floats in the wind, now the symbol of Dar HI.

Ecology and sustainable development are the foundations of Dar HI’s project. The date grove is a local gem, in a fragile environment that has to be preserved and renovated. The renovation has started with a great development financed by the Albert de Monaco Foundation. Dar HI is committed in the same preservation and development of the oasis. A research laboratory will be in Dar HI to find news ways and techniques to use the palm tree and the dates. Within the oasis there is a shadowed shelter, a log cabin with minimal comfort, a vegetable garden in which a will be selected carefully what type of species will be grown. The oasis and the vegetable garden will be used by Dar HI. Being in the desert, the question of water supply is therefore decisive. The water arriving in Nefta comes from a warm source and supplies Dar HI for the hammam and the pool. This water is also present in small ditches around the pill houses and allows the irrigation of the oasis.

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