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Owner of Marfa’s El Cosmico announces plans to move the hotel, build affordable housing

An artist’s rendering of a pool that would be built at the planned new location for El Cosmico off Antelope Hills Road, just outside Marfa city limits.
El Cosmico/ICON/Bjarke Ingels Group
An artist’s rendering of a pool that would be built at the planned new location for El Cosmico off Antelope Hills Road, just outside Marfa city limits.

The owner of Marfa’s El Cosmico campground hotel this week announced tentative plans to move the entire business to a new location in the area and to expand it.

Liz Lambert says she also wants to build affordable housing at the existing El Cosmico site once the hotel is relocated, and that the entire project will rely heavily on a 3D printing tech company called ICON.

Marfa Public Radio caught up with Lambert for more about the plan.

Disclosure: Lambert is a board member of Marfa Public Radio.

Interview Highlights

On the basics of the plan

“We’re looking to move El Cosmico out off of Antelope Hills Road, near Vizcaino Park and the golf course, on the edge of the Gage Ranch,” Lambert said.

Lambert said an “enormous” part of the project was about the need to expand El Cosmico as a business in order to make it profitable.

“El Cosmico for years and years and years has been a labor of love for me,” she said. “I’ve known for so long that we needed to be bigger in order for the property to really break even, or even make some money.”

Lambert said she first began hatching plans for expanding El Cosmico as far back as a decade ago.

On how 3D printing technology can be used to build lodging

“I think all of us are unfamiliar with this world until you actually see it happen,” Lambert said. “You’re actually taking earth, or dirt, water, and some form of binder, mixing it, and pushing it through a big nozzle that then lays out” walls.

ICON, the company who would do the printing, has launched multiple other housing projects using the technology.

“It’s building and shaping as it lays out maybe a three to five inch bead of dirt, water and binder,” she said.

A view of the El Cosmico hotel grounds in March 2023.
Travis Bubenik
Marfa Public Radio
A view of the El Cosmico hotel grounds in March 2023.

On plans for affordable housing

Lambert said she is “committed” to the prospect of using the existing El Cosmico site for affordable housing.

“It’s actually what began this first discussion between Jason Ballard, who started ICON, and me,” she said. “That said, I’m not permitted yet to do that.”

As the Big Bend Sentinel has reported, the project’s backers have not announced specific plans for what kind of housing would be built at the current El Cosmico property.

Still, Lambert told Marfa Public Radio the project partners are “fully on board about it.”

“It is going to take some steps, and some permitting, and some study,” she said. “But right now, the plan is to [3D] print the new El Cosmico…then take the old El Cosmico site and do affordable housing.”

Lambert said those housing options would be “most likely for sale.”

“We’ll see about rental, we have a lot to explore,” she said.

On what “affordable” means in a place like Marfa

Lambert said she would have to do more research to form an idea of what “affordable housing” actually means in terms of price points in Marfa.

“Right now, there’s not a definition for affordable housing” in Marfa, she said. “I don’t think there is a final answer. We will be talking to the people of Marfa, we’ll be talking to realtors, we’ll be seeing what we can build with the technology and deliver.”

On why she chose to reveal the project at such an early stage

“It’s a small town,” Lambert said. “I’ve been in Marfa long enough that I know people know when your car is parked in front of somebody else’s house.”

Acknowledging that people were likely to hear about the project whether or not it was publicized, Lambert said she has “every intention of being responsive” to local residents.

“It’s important to us that we get this as right as we possibly can, and service the needs of the community as well as invite guests,” she said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.