4 reasons architecture is essential for ecotourism

 In Design

by Dominique Gettliffe

Architecture is key to ecotourism because it expresses the environment and culture through space. Ecolodges and ecotourism facilities that are well integrated within the surroundings and convey the local way of life give visitors a one of a kind experience. For everyone involved, ecotourism development helps foster a sense of stewardship for the surrounding environment by using existing resources, local know-how, craftsmanship, and art. The process of designing and building ecotourism facilities supports a lively dynamic of exchange and collaboration. Here are a few reasons why architecture and ecotourism go hand in hand:

  1. Architecture is a form of cultural expression. Architecture not only communicates local aesthetics, materials and construction methods but also local lifestyles. Cooking, bathing, gathering, arriving and leaving are all, integral to the design of the structure and vary from culture to culture. For example, a tiled entrance, shoeboxes and a step to a distinctly “shoeless” level are particular to Japanese buildings where shoes are commonly left at the entrance. The distinct architecture defines the transition from outdoors to indoor sanctuary. Ecotourism provides an opportunity to mediate cultural exchanges and enable visitors to experience the way things are done in different cultural contexts.


  1. Architecture bridges the indoors to outdoors. Ecotourism provides an opportunity for visitors to experience new climates and outdoor living within those natural contexts. In tropical environments, covered outdoor gathering spaces such as gazebos and sheltered hot springs or pools allow people to enjoy the outdoors even in heavy downpours – which are a part of the lifestyle in the tropics. It’s important that architecture for ecotourism is climate responsive and encourages an experience of the indoors and surrounding nature, with seamless transitions between the two.
  2. All cultures have tried and true building practices and styles. Architecture for ecotourism must honor and reflect local building practices and craftsmanship whenever possible. Most often, methods that already exist are climate appropriate, invite local knowledge and skill, are easier to maintain and can be made from materials that are locally sourced, renewable, and cost effective. For example, a yurt that can be disassembled and transported to seasonally appropriate locations is an ideal design for an ecolodge in Mongolia, where this method of living and construction has been practiced for centuries. Designing with materials that exist in the natural context (e.g. bamboo) or that are manufactured within the area (e.g. ceramic tiles) reinforce cultural experiences. Materials that age and bring natural beauty from use provide a sense of timelessness and are important to long lasting and low-maintenance structures.
  3. Architecture supports cultural exchange and community building. Participatory building approaches create longstanding relationships among all members of the team, local and from abroad. These cross-cultural collaborations turn out innovative designs and construction approaches that best reflect and integrate with the area. Architecture that evolves from existing communities, helps pave the way for community owned and operated ecotourism facilities and contributes to the local economy.


Architecture is a powerful tool for creating ecotourism facilities that foster respectful and broadening cultural exchanges. Here’s more information about our approach to architecture and ecotourism.

 Gettliffe Architecture is a Boulder, Colorado architecture firm offering green design services from straw-bale homes to eco lodges around the globe. We believe that beautiful architectural design begins with careful consideration of earth, culture and community. Working with your ideas and vision, our team of green architects brings inspiring spaces to life that are kind to the planet and a pleasure to be in.
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