A Hotel Fit For James Bond
On a mountain called Paranal in Chile, there stands a telescope, a Very Large Telescope (or VLT) to be precise. It’s the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, and is run by ESO, the European Southern Observatory. In order to accommodate workers in the largely inhospitable terrain of the Atacama Desert, ESO created the Paranal Residencia, also known as the ESO Hotel.
Construction of the VLT began in 1991, and for 11 years workers stayed in cramped containers at the base camp. In 1998, work started on the new residence in an existing depression in the landscape, facing the Pacific Ocean 12km below.
It was designed (in collaboration with German architects Auer and Weber Freie Architekten) to blend into the environment, so much of the residence is built beneath ground level.
Light streams in through a huge glass dome, a courtyard roof and skylights. Inside are gardens and a swimming pool – an oasis for workers, in an otherwise unforgiving environment.
The workers moved in in 2002, and visiting astronomers can also camp out here. The building houses 108 bedrooms and 22 offices, as well as a restaurant, library, fitness center, and cinema. Enough to keep residents occupied – and out of the dry, windy terrain surrounding them.
Looking at the dramatic pictures, it may not come as a surprise to learn that the otherworldly structure (more like a space station on Mars than a Holiday Inn) has featured in a Bond movie – 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Said ESO director-general Tim De Zeeuw, ‘Many of the guests, when they walk into the hotel, exclaim, “Hey, this looks just like a James Bond set”, so we were very pleased when a letter arrived from the Bond company asking if they could film here.’ RM