Buildings That Heal
PALACE Magazine|Issue 20

From regenerating the environment to creating buildings that produce more energy than they consume, eco-resorts are setting increasingly ambitious sustainability goals.

Sophie Kalkreuth

IN 2005, ACTOR AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST LEONARDO DICAPRIO PURCHASED BLACKADORE CAY, an unpopulated island located off the coast of Belize for USD 1.75 million. The transaction was widely reported in the media, as were his subsequent plans to build an eco-resort. Then, last fall he released detailed plans; “Blackadore Caye, a Restorative Island” will include 36 estate homes, 36 bookable bungalows and a wildlife preserve that is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Dicaprio is building the resort in partnership with Delos Living, a New York City-based developer who specializes in wellness design. But Blackadore Caye aims to be restorative for more than its guests—the project also aims to restore the island’s natural habitat. The slender 104-acre island has suffered from deforestation, overfishing, and an eroding coastline. To remedy this, developers plan to replant mangroves, replace invasive species with native species, enhance the soil and also create artificial reefs for fish breeding.

The plans also call for the resort to be powered exclusively by renewable energy sources. Solar panels will be installed, as well as an on-site treatment facility for waste and rainwater. “The main focus is to do something that will change the world,” Mr. Dicaprio told The New York Times. “I couldn’t have gone to Belize and built on an island and done something like this, if it weren’t for the idea that it could be groundbreaking in the environmental movement.”

But despite its environmental bent, residents at Blackadore Cay will still be comfortable in their villas, which are expected to fetch up to USD 15 million. The homes are inspired by Mayan ruins, and come complete with infinity pools, sunset views, and a modern minimalist touch courtesy of architect Jason McLennan.

The project is the latest to tap into a growing market for eco-tourism (not to mention celebrity branding), but its ‘green’ ambitions also raises questions about eco-tourism’s legitimacy. In an industry that involves inevitable damage to wildlife and natural habitats, as well as the consumption of resources and waste production, how realistic is the idea of a “restorative” island?

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