Created with respect for its context, Casa Cook El Gouna was an expression of South African designers Common Architecture’s need to leave something beautiful behind in Egypt’s ethereal North Coast.
With its minimally hued canvases and natural textures, Casa Cook El Gouna is arguably the very definition of boho chic. Designed by Common Architecture, a Durban-based design practice, the 100-bed resort - the first Casa Cook Hotel in Africa - was inspired by Egyptian temples and a desire to use the distinctive sunlight in the area by creating playful rhythms and proportions that were in complete harmony with its context. Specifically, the isolated flourishing oasis that is El Gouna.
Seeking uncluttered simplicity, Common Architecture created brutal designs with clean lines that are easy to the eye, and cast geometric shadows as light becomes naturally scattered by timber lathers, which provide shelter from the heat. Palms swaying with the breeze and the chaotic shimmer of water reflect on the walls in visuals that shift throughout the day. A surface that is plain in one moment is covered by an array of indecipherable glyphs of shadow the next. Inside, earthy colours derived from the surrounding staggered horizon fill the spaces with a rich palette that speaks of arid beauty.
Guests arriving to this place of calm are met with a series of buildings that smoothly blend with the land due to the concrete hues and unpainted plaster applied by Mark Bellingan, the lead designer and creative director of the firm. Upon visiting the site - one of the key components of his concept designs - Bellingan was taken aback by the natural environment present and the role this resort can play. While most hotels in El Gouna were connected to their urban surroundings like marinas, shops and restaurants, walkways and canals, Common opted for an alternative setting, one that balances time between its connection to the town, and with nature.
When it came to choosing a colour palette for the project, the South African architect and his sister Leigh Bellingan, the interior designer of the resort, looked at the staggered horizon of El Gouna. The Red Sea mountains had shades of deep red and ochre in the morning which faded to purple during the afternoon haze, while a moonscape of muted grass underlines the view. The interior designer applied this palette indoors with furnishings of linen, rattan and hammered brass that call for a subtle touch and caress - just so you can make sure that you are still thethered to reality. After considering the unique characteristics of the site and drawing inspiration from the peculiarities of its context, Common Architecture created a retreat that is of its place, referential and respectful.
Bellingan got to experience the years surrounding Nelson Mandela’s release, living in a world of change, and wrestling in this context to create positivity for all. Architecture presented itself to him as a means of doing this. Each project is an opportunity to leave a mark of beauty, and Casa Cook was an opportunity to create a wellspring of serenity.
Aside from the rooms, communal spaces like the beach club, restaurant and pool encourage guests to bask in the sunshine as they socialise with ease, and the spa juxtaposes an ancient hammam with modern steam rooms, plunge pools and saunas.
The beach, which is a different kind of desert, occupies the full view from the resort, while daredevils kitesurf above the azure waters. This all-encompassing sense of ease and contemporary simplicity make Casa Cook El Gouna an oasis within an oasis.