Mindful Living in the Sonoran Desert

Date Posted: 03.16.2016

Miraval is one of the top destination resort spas in the United States, offering intimate luxury where the air and water are pure. Located in a pristine portion of the Sonoran Desert, hospitality joins a healing mission to help people balance their lives by living mindfully. The design of Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona, combines the desert’s rich human history with environmentally intelligent practices to enrich the award-winning spa experience.

Intimate Connection with Nature

Located at the base of the Catalina mountain range 35 miles north of Tucson, Miraval occupies the Sonoran Desert’s untouched upper portion, under clear skies free from development. The resort borders a national forest to the east, and urban communities to the west and north. A vast watershed, draining the central valley of the Catalinas, passes through the site and continues south. Ocotillo, saguaro and barrel cactus mix with acacias and mesquite. Coyotes, rabbits, javalinas, snakes, raptors and dozens of other bird species make their home here.

Sweeping views to the south and east connect the Catalina Mountains to Miraval’s campus and establish its character as a place for contemplation and healing. Extensions of the desert’s arroyo system also reach through the site. Elevation, habitat and natural hydrology combine to blur the campus edge with the diversity of the greater landscape. By living in balance with the natural environment, Miraval is acknowledging its role in the desert as one portion of a larger experience.

Sustainable Strategy

The design of Miraval shows how a whole-building approach to sustainability can incorporate a sensory-rich experience for residents and guests. Offering a deep connection to the Sonoran desert, tactile experiences extend to lessons in living mindfully.

Simple, durable and natural materials are suited to the arid climate and respect the natural surroundings. Rammed earth walls, made from the local desert’s sandy soil, create efficient thermal shells with a simple ancient craft. Shade is a commodity here, so deep overhangs with patios create cool caves between the walls, like canyons that shelter new life in the Sonoran. Likewise, careful water conservation principles were employed to encourage sustainable ecology and low environmental impact. Rain is an event in the desert, so rain chains serve as drain spouts to express water audibly.

Supporting Miraval’s commitment to healthy living, the buildings incorporate sustainability strategies to provide guests with a high-performance built environment that honors the natural landscape. The design conserves energy while enhancing access to the beautiful surroundings. Highlights include:

  • Rammed earth walls’ thermal mass collects heat to cool interiors during the day, and then re-radiates it to warm interiors at night.
  • High-albedo roof coating deflects solar energy to decrease air-conditioning energy use.
  • Solar systems on roofs absorb heat to provide high volumes of hot water.
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures save substantial amounts of water. A future on-site treatment plant will reclaim waste water for landscape and irrigation use.
  • Operable windows and open layouts promote natural ventilation.
  • All paints are non-toxic and low VOC.
  • Native plant species require minimal irrigation.
  • With sensitivity to the existing landscape, building locations preserve old growth saguaro cacti.