Dallas May Get Nice Things: FAB Studio

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FAB Studio
Fairmont Manakoba Resort Mexico

I give Dallas grief for building a lot (A LOT) of bad, boring architecture. For those following my train of thought, there’s the semi-regular series Why Can’t Dallas Have Nice Things where I feature international architects who do great work but who have never worked in Dallas. Well, last week I met with the Frank Butler, the president of Dallas’ FAB Studio. Never heard of them? Not surprising as they’ve not worked in Dallas! Ha!

The bread and butter of this firm is swanky resorts where you may have lain your head. Looking at their portfolio, I realized that I had (for the record, Four Seasons Troon North in Scottsdale). Why am I talking about them?  Because they are about to do some high-profile work in Dallas and you should see the caliber of their work. And no, it’s not a bunch of high-rises.

Fairmont Manakoba: Riviera Maya, Mexico

One of two upscale resorts designed by FAB Studio in the Manakoba area outside Playa del Carmen and handy to Cancun. The Farimont has 320 “plain” rooms along with 30 stand-alone casitas sprinkled over its 45-acre seafront property nestled within a 240-acre rainforest. In addition to obviously being a 5-Diamond rated property, it’s also Rainforest Certified.

The property is crisscrossed with waterways that lead out to the Caribbean. The design of the property is intended to mimic local building styles and be as unobtrusive to the natural surroundings as possible.

The seafront casitas offer Mexican palapa-style architecture that’s obviously been amped up for the luxe crowd. When the sea is right there, a private pool seems overly indulgent, but I think “overly indulgent” is part of every 5-Diamond resort.

Certainly, if this were housing instead of a resort, we could all see ourselves living in taking up residence for a lot longer than a week’s vacation. What I like about this and other properties is the sensitivity to surroundings and the tidiness of line.

Rosewood Manakoba: Riviera Maya, Mexico

Near the Fairmont is Rosewood’s resort. Of course, Dallasites know all about Rosewood from the Mansion on Turtle Creek to the Crescent Court Hotels. While now owned by Hong Kong-based World Development, the brand got its start in 1979 by Caroline Rose Hunt. Not surprisingly, the brand is expanding heavily into Asia at the moment.

As you can see, the Rosewood is much different than the Fairmont (something always good to see in an architecture firm – no one-trick-ponies). While Fairmont is more traditional Mexican, the Rosewood is more modern Mexico. I see riffs on modern Mexico City architecture sprinkled into this low-rise property.

I’d definitely be staying here. And with a bathroom like this, so would you. Heck, you might even get me into that bathtub.

Santa Elena Resort: Guanacaste, Costa Rica

This might as well be the best subdivision ever. Tucked into the terrain on a peninsula in Guanacaste Costa Rica, Santa Elena looks out over its self-named gulf on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a narrow gulf, so this tiny resort of 30 buildable lots and villas captures infinite sea and land views.

At this price range, each space feels private but connected as it spills across its vantage point. While we’re still in Latin America, the architecture again has shifted to a more transitional feel somewhere between the Fairmont and Rosewood offerings up the road (OK, 1,200 miles and facing a different sea).

I realize I’m sounding a little like a travel guide, but how else do you talk about resorts?  And besides, inspiration comes from all places. Maybe a vacation, a second home or a décor tip for your Dallas manse.

San Martin District: Lima Peru

OK, there had to be one high-rise.  Back in August, I wrote about Jean Nouvel and his project in Lima, Peru. Well, knock me over with a feather but FAB Studio collaborated with Nouvel on the project and was the designer for the hotel component of this multi-building project.

I loved this ambitious, organic project. When meeting with FAB’s Butler, I was curious which building was theirs. Happily, it was one of the best ones.

As is their forte, they were in charge of the hotel building above that grows out of a low-rise shopping center. It bears reiterating that the greenery meshing with the skin of the building is mesmerizing. The way the building’s skin is pierced by, and seemingly subsumed if left untended, is architectural magic. The buildings mimic the mountainous mists mixed with forest.  Yes, please.

Soon enough I’ll be showing the Dallas project they will be designing. This taste is to let you know Dallas has a hospitality-focused architecture firm that knows unabashed, though often subtle luxury. Gee, I wonder where it will be – nope, not there.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.


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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions


  1. mmJoanna England says

    I love the idea of a beachside pool. Sometimes you want to soak without having to worry about surf!

    Beautiful designs, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to … Turtle Creek?

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