The Desert Lotus Hotel doesn't seem like a particularly convenient place to vacation. Embedded in the rolling dunes of Inner Mongolia, the hotel is more than 500 miles west of Beijing, far from the coast or any major metropolitan centers. But it is close to one thing: Baotou, the Chinese city that mines more than half of the world's rare earth minerals.
The mines at Bayan Obo, outside of Baotou, produce an increasingly outsized portion of the metals used to make electronics—everything from TVs to your new gold iPhone. Driven in part by China's demand for metals, a Mongolian boom has emerged, bringing with it projects like Desert Lotus. Nestled in the dunes beyond the busy factories of Baotou, the resort caters to Chinese tourists, offering "authentic" Mongolian performances and fare.
Deserts and resorts aren't a great pairing, environmentally speaking. But the Chinese firm behind the project—PLaT Architects—managed to solve some of the structural challenges with building on sand in interesting ways. Desert Lotus doesn't have a traditional foundation, and no cement or water was used during construction. Rather, it rests on a flat metal base filled with sand, which keeps it stable like ballast in a boat. 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.
We're likely to see plenty more developments like this over the next few decades, as worldwide demand for rare earth metals increases and the region continues to boom. Though since some environmental advocates report that the mines produce radioactive waste, maybe hold off on booking a ticket just yet. Check out some images shot by Getty photog Feng Li, highlighted on The Atlantic earlier this week, below.
All images: Feng Li / Getty Images.