Building a resort in the Maldives today, where tourism is the main source of income, on a system of islands destined to vanish due to the rise of sea level caused by global warming, means directly tackling the emergency of our planet. The Baa Atoll, site of the recent project by Peia Associati shown here, is part of the delicate system of the Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO, together with other famous sites like the island of Komodo in Indonesia, Ayers Rock in Austrialia, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
Specifically, Miriandhoo – the location of Westin, part of the Marriott International group, is a small island that emerges from the sea as a precious, complete ecosystem, where every human intervention necessarily implies refined architectural sensitivity and extreme environmental awareness. The theme of ‘designing an island’ was an opportunity for the Milan-based studio of Giampiero Peia to experiment with the innovative, sustainable design of a tourism facility, aimed at the reduction of use of fossil fuels (through study of the local climate to limit impact on the ecosystem). From a compositional standpoint, Peia has avoided the stylistic solutions that have set the image of most of the resorts on the archipelago.
He has organized a series of clearly contemporary architectural figures, which from the shore extend out into the water on piles, with wooden connection piers to form a sort of enclosure with a harmonious, oblong form, creating a large natural swimming pool. On the other side of the island, a curved line like a brushstroke defines the second part of the cottages on stilts, completing the complex. The placement of the construction conserves most of the existing vegetation: the 70 bungalows and shared structures are up against the palms and other trees, set back from the sandy white shore.
The small hospitality facilities, on piles or on the island, are composed of two elements: an ‘abstract’ white cube, open with a large glazing to the sea with the reserved pools, is topped by a wooden roof in the form of a vault or a seashell, a protective presence independent of the part below. This solution, besides producing a complete figure, creates a system of natural cooling and ventilation, preventing direct sunlight from heating up the residential capsule. The curved roofs, not only for the cottages, are shaped to suggest marine life forms (turtle shells, the magical forms of manta rays, the smooth surfaces of whale sharks, the spirals of seashells) are joined by flat or single-pitch roofs for some of the shared structures at the center of the island.
In the latter case, the roofs are used for solar panels, as well as for hydroponic cultivation of foods, cutting down on the need for shipping of provisions. The arrival dock and mini-club are distinctive architectural features, two tensile structures in white ETFE fabric following the line of a steel support skeleton.
Great care has gone into the use of wood. Treated and selected for the roofs of the bungalows, the dock and the piers of the pile dwellings (tropical pine from New Zealand), the wood comes from controlled fast-growth forestry projects, avoiding the use of the rare teak – in danger of extinction – that is usually a feature of local resorts. Prefabricated structures have been assembled at the site to reduce waste in the communal structures, while in the logic of the circular economy the leftover concrete posts have been recycled to build an enclosure. Freight containers for the transport of material have become worksite offices, after which they were converted as spaces for the diving center, with the addition of an overhanging wooden roof that reprises the ‘double’ roof solution of most of the architectural elements on the island.
The interiors have been made with natural materials, mixing lime-base stucco with small pieces of wood and dead coral; for the bathroom faucets, the choice has gone to an AISI 316 stainless steel finish, rather than the more delicate and harmful chromium plating. On this small atoll, architecture becomes a tool for the creation of a new, balanced natural/artificial ecosystem, in a game of formal affinities with the marine world.
Project Peia Associati - Pphotos courtesy of Peia Associati