Architect Rafael Viñoly Designs a New Cipriani Hotel in Uruguay

Since the 1950s, Latin America’s jet-set crowd has flocked to Uruguay’s Maldonado coast for warm-weather getaways. Earning the moniker “the Hamptons of South America” is one such beachside resort town, Punta del Este, where pristine sands, a robust nightlife, and a laid-back attitude have long enticed vacationers. During the city’s Golden Age (from the midcentury until the 1990s, when travel was cheap and even military dictators chose to dip their toes in Punta’s bay), celebrities and politicians mingled with elite travelers at Hotel San Rafael, a Tudor-style red-brick structure that dates to 1948. Now, this iconic hotel is being reinvented for the contemporary luxury traveler, as a Cipriani hotel, residence, and casino designed by Uruguayan-native, New York–based architect Rafael Viñoly.

“Using the same materials and details…the design restores the original vision of the 1948 structure and extends its Tudor-style vernacular to the hotel’s new extension,” says Viñoly. He has reimagined a copy of the original Hotel San Rafael with an adjacent Tudor-style addition as a contemporary luxury resort, and will site new residences in two perpendicular, horizontally oriented towers that rise into the air, offering bay vistas and preserving north and west sight lines. Dubbed Cipriani Ocean Resort and Club Residences and Casino, the new property will include 164 hotels suites and 800,000 square feet of residences. Spas, restaurants, shops, event spaces, a casino, support spaces, and parking for the entire complex will be located in the base of the rebuilt hotel.

view of an abandoned hotel
A look at the abandoned San Rafael hotel in Punta del Este.Photo: Getty Images/Miguel Rojo

Hotel San Rafael has been closed since 2011 and sat empty until its acquisition by the hospitality brand last February. Previously, the city-approved plan had been to restore and convert the historic hotel structure, but in the design process Cipriani made a new decision to demolish and replace it with a similar building. “We did not have much of a choice,” explains owner and CEO Giuseppe Cipriani. “The building was in pretty poor and unsafe condition, and the structure could not be preserved.” Cipirani has invested more than $450 million in the Punta del Este project.

aerial view of beach by street
An aerial view of Punta Del Este in Uruguay.Photo: Getty Images/Fabian Schmiedlechner