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The Maldives resort designed with nature in mind

Caroline White visits a Maldives resort that’s designed to blend and coexist with nature.

Perched on the southern rim of the Maldives’ Baa Atoll, a UNESCO-protected bio-reserve, the Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort seems to have grown organically from the silky sanded coral island on which it sits. The architecture mirrors the vivid reefs that bloom in its gin-clear waters and the cetaceans that glide through the deeper reaches.

This synchronicity is the work of Milanese architect Giampiero Peia, a former partner of Piero Lissoni whose firm, Peia Associati (started with his wife, architect Marta Nasazzi), has a sterling record in sustainable development. When he arrived in a monsoon to scout out the pristine setting, the boat captain refused to dock. “So I dived into the water and despite little sharks, reefs and waves, I arrived on the island,” he recalls.

The location was fertile ground for his imagination. “The first thing that I saw on the beach was a clam.” This inspired the design of the arrival jetty, and during the five hours he wandered alone, other natural shapes hatched in his mind – the kid’s club (a white whale), the arrivals lounge (a whale shark).The resort sprawls unobtrusively through the island, its three restaurants, sunset bar, pool, spa, gym, 70 suites and villas melting into the lush green backdrop or set low and wave-like against the seascape.

Key to the project was Japanese developer Belluna, which understood that natural bounty is the greatest luxury this resort can offer. The Overwater Villas feature glass floor sections for observing fish, and decks with private pools for watching the passing traffic of rays and dolphins. To avoid damaging the reefs that feed these spectacles, the concrete pilings for the villas were positioned with the help of a local environmental consultant, and they worked fast. “If works in the water last too long, fish won’t come back soon,” says Peia. Vegetation was protected too –instead of ripping it out and replanting around the new resort, the design left as much intact as possible.

What the team did bring to the island was carefully considered. The units are strong geometrical concrete structures topped with “organically shaped” shelters in a tropical pine that is sustainable and suited to the climate. The double roof creates a natural ventilation system – the timber repelling heat and the concrete walls acting as a coolant, while a breeze runs between the two surfaces. “Compared with other resorts, the use of air conditioning is approximately 40 per cent less,” says Peia.

To minimise the project’s waste and carbon footprint, the architects also created a second life on the island for by-products. “We reused all the shipping containers from transportation of goods,” says Peia. “Four of them are now a contemporary dive centre.” Excess concrete pilings, meanwhile, have been recycled into monolithic fencing that’s in keeping with the resort’s contemporary style.

The look deviates significantly from the thatched style of most Maldivian resorts – an architecture that has no connection to the locale. Instead, says Peia, “we used natural materials to create a contemporary tropical atmosphere”. Inside, the design has Japanese influences, with rattan and bamboo weaves, timber patterns, sliding partitions that reference shōji screens, and an elegant, airy, spare approach to decor. Materials also adhere to the resort ethos, from the ceramic slabs that imitate open book marble without carving up Italian mountains, to the low-energy LED lighting.

The resort’s operation will also lean towards the green: water from a desalination plant is further purified, remineralised and served to guests in glass bottles to reduce plastic consumption; at roofs in the staff village allow solar panels, greenhouses and roof gardens for hydroponic cultivation of fruit and veg. And there are more smart ideas, including an electric boat designed by Peia for guests. The benefit of all this is mutual – it makes sense to protect the resort’s natural wonders because they are, after all, its greatest draw.

Nightly rates at The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort are from £608 for two people on a B&B basis. For more information or to book, click here.

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