Go to Vieques, Get Off-Grid

By Kaufman, David | Newsweek, March 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Go to Vieques, Get Off-Grid


Kaufman, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Kaufman

Pack your bags. Brand-new ultramodern hideaways in the Caribbean are catering to the eco-friendly elite.

Eight miles are all that separate "mainland" Puerto Rico from the tiny islet of Vieques, a 52-square-mile outcrop accFessible only by old-fashioned ferry service or a quick prop-plane flight from San Juan, St. Croix, or St. Thomas. But that brief aquatic expanse has spared Vieques from the kind of cookie-cutter over-development marring once-pristine beachfronts across the Caribbean.

In their place, Vieques reveals itself as a tranquil tableau of rugged mountainside, wild horse herds, and eerie bioluminescent bays. What's most intriguing is its increasingly--and surprisingly--sophisticated art, architecture, and design scene. Recent arrivals have put it on the map--the W Vieques Retreat and Spa, a 157-room hideaway opened in 2010, and nearby in the tiny hamlet of Esperanza, the Malecon House was unveiled with 10 contemporary-design rooms.

But Vieques's true style nexus is the Hix Island House, a 15-year-old "extreme green" hilltop retreat named after its developer and designer, the architect and eco-maverick John Hix. Much like visionaries ranging from Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius to Hix's former professor Louis Kahn, Hix--who was born in Ohio and splits his time between Vieques and Toronto--rigorously adheres to a form-follows-function philosophy that extends as much to living in his buildings as it does to designing them. "Bunker"-like and crafted from reinforced concrete, Hix's 13-room, 13-acre hotel--along with his handful of private Vieques villas--are instantly identifiable by their angular support columns, infinity-edge pools, and windows sealed from the elements by steel security doors rather than conventional glass panes.

"I've learned from the ways locals create their own homes to make buildings that are beautiful, while responding to the island's inherent climatic conditions," says Hix of Vieques, which was infamously occupied by the U.S. military from the 1940s to 2003. "When designed properly, these structures reduce energy demands, have no need for artificial cooling, and can be run completely from the sun."

Hix's mindset is uniquely suited to Vieques. The island's balmy trade winds, semitropical temperatures, and dramatic topography are at once inspirational and practical. …

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