Modern Mayan Design December 2008

"We had the opportunity to speak with architect and owner of Dos Jaguares in
Akumal Sur, Tony Gonzales when he and his family were recently in Akumal. We
talked about the vacation home's design inspirations and a few experiences
during this unique villa's construction."

So, when did you first come to Akumal?

I first came to Akumal around 1982 on a day trip from Cancun to the Tulum ruins. It was our second road trip after Chichen Itza. My wife Joan and I spent a good part of the eighties visiting the ruins of the Yucatan. We were inspired by the Stephens and Catherwood 19th century explorations written in the Incidents of Travels books. Throughout that period, we would always come back to Akumal because we loved this area and one day, lying on the beach, we decided to see about buying some land and found a little piece of jungle on the beach.

What was Akumal like at that time?

Akumal was different back then. You went to the Lol Ha Beach Bar and talked with the locals to find what you were looking for. We found this character named Bill Guynes, a Texan and great guy who was one of the first to build a house and was representing the Bush family’s beachfront properties. Bill became a long-time friend who I blame for my affection for Anejo con Coca to this day. Bill drove us down the old coconut road to South Akumal and we were sold. We bought the lot before we left and I was sketching the new house on the flight back to L.A.

Was it difficult to build?

We were fortunate to find a contractor who was truly excited to build the house in an engineer named Juan Arroyo in Cancun. I found that there was a difference in the way that buildings are constructed here in Mexico with more design details produced on site compared to my many sheets of drawn details. I would periodically visit and a few times saw very beautiful design work installed that I would have to have removed because it was not what I had designed.

I have got to tell you a Bill Guynes story. I hired Bill to oversee construction while I was back in L.A. I gave him rolls of film to photograph construction progress and mail them to me. Well I got the first roll of film and was very excited to see the pictures. I took them to the local Santa Monica One Hour Photo for processing and noticed some funny glances from the people who worked at the photo store. I could not wait to see them so I immediately opened the package and to my surprise, found along with the shots of construction, there were also shots of bare breasted women on lounge chairs.

You see Bill appreciated the female physique. I then understood the strange looks. I immediately went back to my studio to show my staff the construction and the crew on break. I got many requests for site observation duty as well as a request from Bill for a few prints.

Dos Jaguares is very unique and different from every other house that I have seen in Akumal. What inspired you in its design?

As I said, Joan and I spent a good deal of time at Mayan sites, so the primary influence was particular structures that we visited at Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Palenque. I also looked to the concrete block buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. They were influenced by his visits and research of Mayan sites and many of them were built in Los Angeles like the Millard house in Pasadena. My work is very sculptural and I also imposed a metric grid both vertical and horizontal that brings a mathematical harmony to its historic influence.

That sounds rather deep. So it is not just a vacation house on the beach?

It certainly is a great vacation house for families and friends, but it is some times appreciated for its architectural experience as well. One of my favorite reactions was from a recurring guest who once told me that they were watching an IMAX movie of the Mayan ruins and said, “that’s Dos Jaguares” when the film took them through the Palace at Palenque. They got it and I think that it is really great when people can connect with this house at that experiential level.

What are the other Mayan influences that guests can see?

Well, as I said, my work is sculptural and the Mayan influences are not literal reproductions, but are abstractions of selected design ideas. For instance, the multiple segmented arches on the beachfront façade were taken from the House of the Doves at Uxmal and sit on tall columns similar to the vertical language that Wright used. The curves are taken from the Observatory at Chitzen that is identified as the Puuc style that also influenced the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles of architecture. The segmented Mayan arch is seen in a variety of ways, but always with the same proportions.

What is your favorite part of the house?

It has to be the upper corridor that is based on the corridor at the Palace at Palenque. I really love that building and spent a long time photographing and sketching it. The ribbed vault of Mayan arches is a minimal underside of the abstracted serpent of the roof structure. When it is lit from its concealed lights, I just enjoy its harmony and my visual memory of Palenque.

         Upper Corridor

         Palace at Palenque

Dos Jaguares entrance

         Dos Jaguares arch at sunrise

         Iglesia at Coba

What are your favorite things to do when you come down to Akumal and Dos Jaguares?

Akumal is a wonderful place to spend time. There is so much to do or not do. We have many friends who we visit with and I have been known to still pull up a stool at the local’s end of the Lol Ha Beach Bar. I enjoy going to Coba to see the progress of excavating and rebuilding of this important Mayan City or to Ek Balam where my new favorite little building sits and the many natural wonders of the area. Mostly though, I enjoy the beach. Just sitting on the deck relaxing, kayaking or snorkeling in the clear, warm water just steps from the house.

Any last thoughts?

Only that I love Akumal, it is a special place that will always be a part of my family’s life. I have had the privilege of designing many buildings and structures from stadiums to subways and believe that Dos Jaguares is my favorite and hope that those who spend a little time there can enjoy it as much as I do.

Tony, Joan, Cassie and Alex Gonzales at a small Mayan structure in Sian Ka’an in Spring 2008

Learn more about Dos Jaguares on this site or by visiting Akumal Villas reservations site.
Akumal Villas

Cabanas Tulum