Creating a 21st century mansion set upon a private island in the Caribbean is no mean brief, but Marbella-based architect Daniel Martín took all the technical and locational challenges in his stride to produce a vision of the future.

Picture a private tropical paradise off the Yucatan coast of Mexico. If you owned such a slice of heaven you’d want to create a special home here that you could share with friends and family, which is exactly what the Swiss proprietor wished to do. Though privately owned, the island falls under the very strict environmental protection rules that apply to this ecologically important region, but as an experienced property developer he had the experience and know-how to build something special while also respecting the environment. The only thing that was missing was a technically and artistically gifted architect to realise the vision.

After a long search the choice fell upon Da niel Martín, an architect from Madrid but based in Marbella who had made a name for himself by plotting his own course and remaining true to his principles. “An architect works to realise the vision of his clients, but there are two kinds of professionals in this field; those who simply work on a commercial basis and those who have to believe in what they do because they give their all to a project,” explains Daniel.

“I believe the best work is created by people who have a passion for what they are doing. There are many architects and engineers who specialise in creating high-rise around the world, so instead of joining them I look for smaller-scale challenges that require far more personal input, and in the end become singular, timeless expressions of their surroundings and their owners’ style.” His projects have been varied, local and international, encompassing both large and small edifices and villas, but always involving the desire to produce something special and unique. “The actual design need not be extravagant or avant-garde, but something that adds rather than detracts from its surroundings.”

A Unique Project

Ultimately, Daniel Martín is an architect who doesn’t just accept a cheque but wants to be proud of his work, and this was exactly the kind of person the owner of the island property was looking for, as he too wanted to create something exceptional upon his beautiful Caribbean site. Architect and project indeed seemed made for one another, and upon visiting the location and discussing the possibilities with the owner he began to immerse himself not just in the tight planning regulations and technical restriction of a rocky tropical island, but also sought inspiration in local natural and cultural references.

“My own architectural style is defined by the use of horizontal planes, not as towering vertical layers that impose themselves on the human and natural environment – hence my dislike for tower blocks – but in the form of receding planes with softly angled edges that produce reduced volumes, much like pyramidical structures do.” Studying the Mesoamerican Mayan culture, he found their structures, and indeed their pyramids, to also incorporate horizontal layers in a similar way, and so the first element of design was established in this cultural reference, which represents art in the project’s desire to create a fusion of ‘Art, Nature and Architecture’.

With nature so dramatically prominent in the setting, the colour tones presented themselves almost naturally in the form of emerald hues of tropical greenery and the azure reflections of the water. Verdant vegetation and the calming, soothing sight and sound of water would join a modern interpretation of Mesoamerican-inspired architecture to which Daniel also added gently sloping green roofs. “Villa Xálima is a luxurious holiday home, not an office block, so it was necessary to soften the modern geometry with a gentle gradient, playful edges and then cover them with moss-like grass to let the complex blend into the natural setting.”

A Fusion of Art, Nature and Architecture

“I have always loved the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and how his designs became a part of their particular landscape. This is especially impactful in the Fallingwater House, where the fragile beauty of the setting is somehow enhanced by this iconic creation. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House is another example of purity of design, but it isn’t necessarily the easiest home to live in, so I’m always mindful of the need to balance form and function as well as respecting the environment.” This would prove a challenge on the rocky island, where normal construction methods wouldn’t work, so Daniel devised both a technical and aesthetic solution in one.

Architecture isn’t only about style and aesthetics; it is also about engineering, quantifying materials and creating durable, loadbearing structures for people to live and work in. Every beautiful design has to be balanced by sound technical underpinnings, and in the case of Villa Xálima this was more complicated than usual. To maximise space, and in the process incorporate more water and natural greenery, Daniel chose to position part of the structure jutting out over the cliffs into the sea, using a cantilever system of construction to support the weight and ensure complete stability. “It aided the drama of the design and saved space,” explains the architect.

With the elements thus compiled: Mayan Art, water and tropical greenery representing nature and the technical and aesthetic architectural components in place, Daniel Martín set about designing a signature villa that would be a fusion of all these parts while also providing the hybrid role of summer home and guest accommodation for significant numbers of independent groups. “In effect, the property had to be multifunctional, usable both as a private villa with self-catering guest accommodation, and if required also as an ultra-luxurious boutique residence hotel in one of the most beautiful locations of the Caribbean.”

A Modern Work of Art

The result is a modern mansion infused with ancient inspiration, enlivened with natural elements and made possible by the latest technology, equipped with every luxury imaginable but also designed to be welcoming, homely and in sync with its natural setting. “I believe in building on a human scale – another reason why I don’t like tower blocks – and this can be achieved even in an expansive project of this scale, which occupies a built area of 26,000 square metres.” Daniel accomplished this by creating a series of exquisite private villas radiating outwards from a central main mansion.

Representing different scales and levels that merge structure and nature in a series of terraced levels connected by walkways, terraces, courtyards and abundant greenery, they overhang cliffs, hug coves and in the case of the main house stand proudly atop a hill to offer privacy, intimacy and space while endowed with awe-inspiring views of the Caribbean Sea. The connection between the different parts of the villa, as well as between island and structure, setting and architecture, is so intuitive that it seems entirely natural – a fine example of how even the most opulent of architecture can work with the elements to produce inspiring, environmentally sensitive designs.