05 Apr 2022 • Hospitality
Context-specific design syncs this Sri Lankan boutique hotel with its local vernacular
Paying homage to the distinct regional architectural genre of tropical modernism, the six-suite Harding Boutique Hotel in Ahangama evokes an unmistakable sense of place.
The accommodation is built on the slender footprint of an old tsunami-damaged house, located amongst coconut groves in the southern province of Sri Lanka. Unlike typical low-lying resorts, the Harding Boutique Hotel extends vertically and thus offers views of the Ahangama coastline and surrounding dense vegetation. To give shape to the six-suite hotel and ensure an authentic, genuine Sri Lankan experience, architect Jonathan Ashmore of RIBA-chartered practice Anarchitect tapped into the regional architectural genre of tropical modernism, a fascination sparked by his client, Sri Lankan-Australian entrepreneur Paul Harding. ‘My great uncle was one of the first hoteliers and great pioneers of tourism in the country, opening The Blue Lagoon – the country’s first hotel designed by Geoffrey Bawa, the father of Sri Lankan modernist architecture,’ explains Harding.
The consideration of local building traditions was in no way a restrictive anchor. ‘Both the client and I shared a vision of creating a modern-progressive design that would sit in contrast to the other surrounding buildings yet feel so of-place, that it must have always existed,’ says Ashmore. And it’s not just the architectural inspiration that gives the hotel its recognizable vernacular. Local cultural implications and the area’s natural resources play a key role too. All materials for the project are locally sourced and chosen for their longevity, a necessity given the accommodation’s intense weather and sea exposure. Local craftsmen were employed to produce the hotel’s custom timber joinery, furniture and wall and floor surfaces in the robust, satin-polished local plaster throughout. The hotel – including its feature staircase, private balconies, elevated ocean-facing rooms and open-air roof terrace – benefits from natural cross-ventilation that, as the architect explains, ‘filters the prevailing coastal winds and creates a constant permeability between the interior, interstitial and exterior spaces of the hotel and a dialogue between the hotels guests and mother nature.’
As travellers are increasingly driven by a desire for authentic and genuine local experiences, hotels are smart to open up to – and adopts elements of – their natural and cultural surroundings. As exemplified by the concept of the Harding Boutique Hotel, a context-specific design approach, both appreciating vernacular materials and architecture, can not only help to enrich the guest experience, but empower and preserve local craft communities too. ‘[The project] was a natural continuation of my own and our studios passion for ‘destination hospitality’ and ‘global-local’ approach to our projects to create a stand-out, of-place property that was intrinsic to its location, purpose and environment,’ says Ashmore.