Kinsterna Hotel is a restored mansion, originally built in the 17th century around a cistern in the middle of lush olive and citrus groves near the historical Byzantine fortress of Monemvasia. The mansion has a rich history, dating from Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian times and was once an impressive estate that served as a wealthy refuge and lord’s mansion over several centuries before falling into a state of disrepair in the 1970’s.
The first phase of the project looked to preserve and revive Kinsterna’s past, turning the dilapidated mansion into a unique boutique hotel with community, self-suffiency and sustainability at its heart, whilst capturing local history and reviving old traditions to tell the buildings story. These layers of history were integral to the restoration project and the design encourages visitors to seek their own interpretation of the building’s past, as a voyage through time. Memory, nature and materiality are woven together by highlighting a single architectural element that can be expounded on many different levels. In this case, water is the central theme running through the design, which draws upon the philosophy of water feeding the land and the land feeding the community.
For centuries, water has breathed life into these fertile lands from its source high in the mountains, cascading down a creek and irrigating the fields, before it is channelled into the age-old cistern. Following this path, the design extends the natural flow of water, which begins by pooling beneath a cantilevered dining platform, before meandering through the indoor and outdoor spaces and gently spilling into the swimming pool. Here, the water opens up to spectacular views of the surrounding scenery, with imposing Mount Tayetus on one side and fortified, medieval Monemvassia on the other. The surrounding gardens include fruit-bearing trees, fertile vegetable patches, aromatic herb gardens and an endless supply of spring water, supporting the hotels philosophy of sustainability and enabling the revival of activities such as winemaking and olive oil production, that were once the lifeblood of the estate.
In the common areas and rooms, the atmosphere of the original building was painstakingly recreated using traditional construction methods and authentic local materials and the skill of local artisans and craftsman proved key to capturing the buildings past. The fascinating layering of various building phases is rendered in juxtaposed stonework and thick plaster facing. The ceilings either feature exposed stone vaults, cypress beams or traditional woodwork. Patterns on the interior walls allude to traditional lace-making or demonstrate in-filled vaults and fireplaces.
The second phase of the project called for the design of a substantial new extension to accommodate additional common areas. We were tasked with answering the question of how to design a modern building alongside a historic mansion with a unique architectural heritage, whilst at the same time considering the surrounding natural environment in which it sits. The answer came through the design of the roof. Monemvassia’s vernacular buildings consist of tiled, pitched roofs. We started with this recognisable form and repeatedly unfolded it to create an abstracted roofscape that spoke to the undulating hills of the region, as well as the gradual unfolding of the guest’s journey throughout the estate.
Another important influence on the design was the need to remain sympathetic to the scale and context of the restored mansion. Thanks to careful consideration of the geometry and positioning of the new building, its large volume nearly disappears when viewed from the existing pool. Attention was also given to the amphitheatrical landscape to enable the new swimming pool and surrounding area to work harmoniously with the existing pool from phase one.
As the project has evolved from the restoration of the old to the accommodation the new, a striking juxtaposition has been created between the historic mansion and its reinterpretation in contemporary architecture. We see this as a project that both preserves the historic soul of a building whilst pushing it into the 21st century.