HEART-SHAPED RESORT: Romance Rituals From a Bird’s-Eye View

Over-the-water bungalows at the Sandals South Coast, Jamaica. The structures are advertised as marrying modern luxury with palapa-style architecture. Illustration by Waq Duval.

Just off the southwest coast of Jamaica, in the Caribbean Sea, there is a Sandals Resorts property of over-the-­water bungalows that form the shape of a heart. To the jet set, all-inclusive resorts are understood as middle-class traps, offering vacations for the uncultured who travel 1,000 miles for the fries and piña coladas they could just as easily get at their local Applebee’s. At over 1,000 dollars per person per night, the Sandals South Coast “Tahiti-style” bungalows perched over the ocean are for a slightly different crowd, those who want some sense of privacy, morality, and individuality, but with the safety of a name-brand resort.

This big heart, however, is only visible from the sky. Or, of course, the lush 360-degree clickable online tour that gets its patrons there in the first place. On the ground, you get the luxury-blueness of the water, Appleton rum in the bar, and mass-produced resort furniture. Nowhere do you get to see the well-advertised architectural heart. 

The effect, I imagine, is subconscious. The shape of the heart is suspended in your mind. Sitting in one of your private bungalows, staring out to sea, you find yourself in love again with your partner. You find yourself thinking, “This is love island.” With these bird’s-eye designs, the heart as an ideograph is reduced to an essence: a private seaside colony in an anonymous paradise. To see a heart is unsophisticated when instead you can live it. When two hearts come together, overwhelmed by blue, love does not need to announce itself. Love is within you. Love is atmospheric. Love is floating all around. Love is transfiguration.

The spectacular heart-shaped bungalows at the Sandals resort at South Coast, Jamaica, located in a 500-acre nature preserve.

That this is a crooked lie doesn’t matter. Resorts sell rooms by saying that the dream of love is better than the burden of reality. To stay in heart-shaped architecture viewable only by photography and the drones that provide the images is to live in a fantasy only advertising can provide. Of course, part of architecture’s grace is that it can provide an experience of the whole, even while experiencing only a part. Frank Lloyd Wright’s ziggurat of a Guggenheim spiral, say, looks and feels different from various vantage points, from across Fifth Avenue or from inside on one of the upper ramps. (And yet here I am, writing about a place I’ve never been inside, a view I’ve only seen from way up high. I am, in my own way, perched like those bungalows, floating above the ocean’s wildlife, away from human vitality.)

Last summer, while visiting my family in Jamaica, I stayed for a few days near the Sandals in Whitehouse, not far from where I lived as a baby. One night, my brother, his girlfriend, and I drove up to Elaine’s Chateau, a small-time inn with a view. It was there that my brother pointed out the heart-shaped pier jettisoning out from the shore, which was built in 2017. (A similar development, but this time a whole honeymoon island shaped like a heart, was planned around the same time in Dubai, part of a resort called the Heart of Europe that is currently under construction.) Standing on Elaine’s balcony, nestled among greenery at the border of Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth parishes, I didn’t see a heart but an eyesore. “Oh my god,” I said, rolling my eyes at this topography of romance. But my mirthful brother, who has lived within 15 minutes of the resort all his life, was a little more forgiving. He could derive pleasure from being deceived. Had I fallen into the trap, I thought, thinking I was bougier than the heart-­chitecture before me? Or was he just in love while I, an uncoupled feminist, understood that romantic love is a lie meant to oppress me?

A rendering of St. Petersburg Island — one of six islands making up the Heart of Europe, an under-construction megaresort off the Dubai coastline.

At Sandals, it seems that every little detail — the peacock towel art, the see-through glass floor panel, billowing translucent curtains — is positioned to point back to that grand symbol of modern love: the heart. These obsessive details are meant to make you forget that rejuvenation is anticlimactic and that an island getaway will not save your marriage. After all, from vibrating heart-shaped beds in Las Vegas to a 7-foot glass bath shaped like a champagne glass in the Pocono Mountains, resort design has long drawn on romance to get white bodies into their pleather casino chairs, beige-colored buffet lines, and beachside chaise longues.

It is amusing how the myriad of heart emojis — the platonic double pink minis, the solid red, the funereal black posted after a celebrity’s death — carry with them some integrity, but even in the land of couples tourism, the heart-shaped built environment is considered cheesy, kitschy, and dated. Online, love feels cute, granular and so, yes, a little bit real, but from the sky, bathed in forgiving sunlight, eternal love is a kind of drowning.

Text by Tiana Reid.

Tiana Reid is a writer and editor living in Manhattan. Her work has been published in Art in America, Bookforum, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, T Magazine, Vice, Vulture, and elsewhere. She is part of Pinko, a collective for thinking gay communism.

Illustration by Waq Duval. Taken from PIN-UP 28, Spring Summer 2020.