Architects use sea creatures, themes to reflect local lifestyle, Zhao Xu reports.
Wong Chiu Man, a Singaporean architect and founder of the architectural design firm WOW, recalled first arriving on Vommuli, one of the thousand islands that make up the Maldives, by swimming.
“We had to swim from the seaplane to the island as there was no proper jetty or docking facility then,” he said. “My first sight of the island was an abandoned fisherman’s hut beside a giant banyan tree.”
But, China Daily ’s recent visit bore witness to a transformed island, as the area is now a luxury destination under the much-venerated hotel brand St. Regis.
Similar fisherman-style huts are now dotted along a stretch of the Vommuli beach, as reflections of the original in similar shapes and different building materials.
“The roofs in this part of the world are usually made with dried banana leaves, while ours are constructed using wooden planks,” said the architect, explaining his inspiration for the island’s beach villas.
Wong Chiu Man and his wife and long-time work partner Maria Warner Wong are the duo behind these buildings that have put Vommuli on the map for sophisticated travelers.
“We are trying to provide our clients with an authentic experience, not in a barefoot, Robinson Crusoe sort of way, but in a more refined, subtle and design-conscious manner,” said Wong Chiu Man.
“We have achieved this goal by telling stories — stories of the island as well as our own experiences in relation to this place — in the language of architecture.”
Such stories abound at the resort. Some aspects reflect Wong Chiu Man’s memories of living in old shipping containers for almost a year while the staff quarters were under construction. He ate freshly caught and grilled fish on banana leaves, while Maria Warner Wong only joined her husband when “there was hot water”, according to her.
“We try to honor all those memories. That’s why we have the pop-up restaurant CARGO, inspired by the shipping container. It’s closed by day, but ‘pops’ open by night to be a restaurant serving surprise fresh farm-to-table cuisine,” Wong Chiu Man said.
The architects also sought to pay tribute to locals and their way of life. They found an ideal shape for the high ceilings in the family villas — the most luxurious type offered in Vommuli — in the wind-blown sail of local Dhoni boats.
They also based their idea for CRUST, a beach pizza café, on the small provision shop once built for construction workers that stayed on the island.
But, in a place known for its unspoiled beauty, nature serves as the biggest source of inspiration for the architects.
Many marine creatures, from clams and hermit crabs to lobsters and manta rays, have left their mark on the island’s distinct architecture.
None of these constructions commands a presence as regal and unmistakable as the Whale Bar.
With gently undulating curves calling to mind the beautiful lines around the head of a giant whale, the bar rises straight up from the cobalt sea.
The bar, open on both sides, might not be an ideal place to sip a drink during a downpour, as China Daily discovered on a recent visit. But, when the weather is good, one can walk to the far end of the bar — the unshaded part extending into the ocean — and look back. The bright light emanating from the wine counter makes you feel as though you are lounging just outside the mouth of the whale.
The resort’s interior decoration continues this ocean theme. The crystal waters for which the Maldives are known are reflected in the villas’ linen, which are drenched in different shades of blue. Local artists’ porcelain works that evoke sea-washed sands hang from the walls.
The mostly unlikely theme that has captured the architects’ imagination is plankton, which are completely invisible during the day but intermittently glisten on the dark beach at night. With carefully placed lighting in the swimming pool, Wong Chiu Man intended to recreate this bioluminescence effect.
The architect plans to invite artists from around the world to create temporary art on the beach, “ephemeral art to match the eternal beauty of this place”, he said.
Another feature that caught China Daily’s attention is the banyan tree that Wong Chiu Man spotted on his first landing at Vommuli. He built a house for shared entertainment and relaxation inspired by the tree’s giant canopy and aerial roots, naming it the Vommuli House.
Matching all the natural and manmade beauty of the resort is the hotel’s signature butler service, offering quality and efficiency in this relaxed corner of the world.
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Marine life, a lobster for example, inspires many designs of the St. Regis Hotel at Vommuli.
From top: The hotel’s whale bar provides guests with a spacious view; The interior decoration of the hotel continues the water theme.