Green luxe living at the Maldives’ Hurawalhi Island Resort

JK from IRMASWORLD at Hurawalhi Island Resort in the Maldives; entrance to the hotel’s Coco Bar

The beautiful new Hurawalhi Island Resort manages to combine five-star luxury and sustainability — not an easy feat in a fragile environment like the Maldives. The resort wows with its a spectacular architecture and design, while at the same time green initiatives such as their own solar panels, desalination system and water bottling plant, reduce the project’s carbon footprint. IRMA spoke with the resort’s architectural mastermind, Yuji Yamazaki of YYA New York.

The architect: Yuji Yamazaki of YYA New York

IRMA: What is the biggest challenge when constructing in the Maldives?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: The Maldives thrive on their tourism industry for their beautiful atolls and small islands. This geographical character also has impacts on other industries — very low stock of construction materials. So almost every construction material, furniture, lighting and artwork, needs to be carefully planned and quantified months before the construction starts. If you miss something, you wait another 8 weeks. Unlike other projects I do in the US, there is no room for “I’ll come up with better ideas later;” you have to commit to the design early in the process, and the materials have to be ordered. Once it’s ordered, I try not to think about it, and that’s hard for any architect.

IRMA: How do you integrate colours, texture and nature into your architecture design to make it look harmonious and not boring?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: For this project, I only designed the interior of the reception and restaurants, not other parts. So the buildings were already there when I got involved. Nonetheless I always try to choose colour and texture to emphasize the view from buildings. People come to the Maldives to enjoy the nature of the island, so when you are sitting in the restaurant, for instance, you are gazing at the horizon which is blue at lunchtime and orange at cocktail hour. Those colours of nature should not be ignored. I have tried many colour schemes on Maldivian islands and the success so far comes from natural wood materials and colour which is brown to beige to light gray. Using those colours and textures, I try to bring a sense of surprise by working with artists and install something unexpected.

The spectacular reception area at Hurawalhi

IRMA: When you design a vacation residence, what is your ultimate goal and must?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: My goal when designing a resort is to satisfy guests like myself. I often get too hot or too cold very quickly. It is crucial to provide comfort. In the case of the Maldives, the sun is brutal yet that’s the main thing people come to enjoy. Designing shades is the most important thing, whether it is created by a palm tree, canopy or roof, you need to give guests safe and comfortable shaded areas when the sun gets too hot.

The Maldives are unique in that you first see your destination from the air or from a small boat. The first impression of the resort is the shape of trees, roofs and canopies. So if I could invoke a sense of excitement by those shapes when you arrive, my first goal is achieved. The second goal would be to control the temperature by those shades and natural wind. I prefer well ventilated room with breeze to air-conditioning system. I always provide ample shaded outdoor space in a villa, as well as operable windows on the north and south side for the Maldivian breeze. There is so much more you can design other than having an AC system and just sticking an umbrella on the front deck.

IRMA: When I visited Hurawahli, I especially liked the way you integrated the public rooms like the restaurant. The idea of the water basin gave this place which was crowded at times a peaceful atmosphere. How can water, air and earth make a room different?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: The water is always a good pause in a space. The sound also gives a sense of peace. In this particular case, it is also helping to cool the air. The building has 3 sides with open doors, so the breeze can go through the water and cool the tables around it.

IRMA: Regarding eco-sustainability, what is in your opinion the importance today if it come to building houses?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: In the Maldives, we built a 100% solar-powered resort in 2015 called Finolhu Villas. The burden of global CO2 reduction lies primarily with a few large economies, but achieving carbon neutrality on this small island nation could be a template for future developments in larger countries. More than anything, Buildings and houses use most of our energy. It is the most important aspect of our profession to design buildings that use less energy.

IRMA: Where would you build your vacation residence and what would be the most important for you?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: I have no particular place in mind but not too remote a location from civilization. The balance of urban and rural is an important factor for me.

Aerial view of a beach villa at Hurawalhi

IRMA: Where do you see the tendency for vacation architecture in the future? What will people be looking for?

YUJI YAMAZAKI: I think people are looking for something new all the time. A website like Tablet. helps to recognize the importance of design for resorts and hotels, and people are becoming more keen on finding latest trends and design through websites. Traditionally, your tour operator would recommend where you stay for your vacation, but now in the online booking age, how it looks on the website and the ratings and reviews are the most important aspect in marketing of hotels and resorts. Beyond service and price, design and architecture is becoming an even bigger part of the hotel operation.