Ar­chi­tects use sea crea­tures, themes to re­flect lo­cal life­style, Zhao Xu re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HOSPITALITY -

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.

Con­tact the writer at zhaoxu@chi­


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.

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