Sustainability spells survival for the Maldives, a nation of 1,190 islands arranged in 26 atolls that rise an average of just five feet above sea level in the Indian Ocean, and that are at risk over the next decade if the oceans continue to rise. Most of the islands are uninhabited and ideally should remain so, but the country relies heavily on tourism to generate income, which in turn allows them to purchase mainland real estate to which the population can relocate if their home disappears. Maldives Driftwood, an environmentally responsible developer, commissioned the Singapore firm of SCDA Architects to thus work a balancing act of designing a luxury resort for the 20-acre atoll Hadahaa with as little impact as possible.
Leased to Park Hyatt, the resort comprises 50 modernist wood villas, airy public spaces, and staff accommodations, all of which were constructed with materials that had to be shipped to the island. Park Hyatt Hadahaa is the first resort in the Maldives to meet the standards for EarthCheck (formerly Green Globes) certification in both the construction stage and resort operations. The resort has a resident marine biologist and EarthCheck coordinator on staff as well.
Before construction began, a specialist surveyed the island and devised a multipart strategy. During construction, the team would stay on the closest island in simple huts that were built from chunks of coral washed up on the beach and corrugated metal roofs. That experience inspired them to build simply and in response to the land and climate. To not disturb the island’s reef but still offer prime ocean views, the team built a concrete arc supported by slender concrete columns that extends from the lagoon and is five feet above the water level. Fourteen of the villas rest on this foundation, each with an L-shape plan that frames views of the ocean and the turquoise lagoon, while providing some privacy from neighbors. Timber roof rafters wrap living spaces and support slatted screens and sliding glass doors that open onto private terraces.
For the remaining villas, which dot the perimeter of the island, the team developed a prefab prototype in a warehouse near Singapore. The precut wood sections were produced in Indonesia, shipped to Hadahaa, and assembled onsite by Maldivians. Other building materials were shipped from India, unloaded at one of two long jetties.
Regional influence and resources
Soo Chan, design principal of SCDA, visited another island where traditional boats are constructed by hand. “The ribs were spectacular, so I persuaded our engineers to hire these craftsmen to create an enlarged, upside-down version of their boat to serve as a reception area,” he says. “They found a way of creating a rigid structure with very small foundations, suspending the ribs from a rectangular structure and joining them to form a shell, rather than building from the ground up.” Other public buildings feature flat roofs that sit on slim concrete columns, forming pavilion-like open spaces that are cooled by ocean breezes. The restaurant-bar sports carved wood columns, and shutters that can be closed tightly during the occasional tropical storm. A mezzanine gallery and roof terrace provide refuge in the event of a tsunami.
“Thatched roofs are used in many south seas resorts but they are not indigenous to the Maldives, and we have employed more durable materials,” says Chan. His firm custom designed the simple furnishings, which include the canopied Java bed. Orange is used as an accent hue and area rugs are woven from thin strips of bamboo.
At every stage in the design, SCDA sought to achieve harmony with nature and make intelligent use of scarce resources. All buildings are raised so repairs can be made from crawl spaces. A generator provides power for illumination and light-duty air-conditioning, and water used to cool that generator is recycled as hot water for showers. Rainwater is collected to irrigate the plantings that check erosion. A desalination plant provides fresh water, and the owners are exploring the potential of solar and tidal energy. Conrad admits that “it’s a contradiction to build a sustainable resort on a remote sandbank,” but he is proud of the first audit, which estimated that each guest night generated 91 pounds of carbon, which is less than an average hotel stay.
The resort has won a 2012 Green GOOD DESIGN Award, presented jointly by The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. It has also successfully completed the Ecoluxury Compliance Audit, achieving 3 out of 3 Golden Tents to now be recognized as a qualified member in the category of Ecoluxury Seaside Resorts and Private Islands.
Key Design Highlights
- To limit environmental impact, structural elements were prefabricated offsite, shipped, and then assembled onsite by local construction crews.
- A concrete arc was constructed around the lagoon to act as a foundation platform for over-water villas.
- All buildings are raised to allow for access to crawl spaces for necessary repairs.
- The reception structure is derived from a local boat building technique, and was constructed by local craftsmen.
- Efficient systems include a desalination plant to provide fresh water and a power generator that reuses cooling water .
- Rainwater irrigates plantings that limit erosion on the island.
Park Hyatt Hadahaa
Designer SCDA Architects
Client Driftwood Maldives Pvt. Ltd.
Where Gaafu Alifu, Maldives
What 172,222 square feet over an island
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request