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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Harding Boutique Hotel by ANARCHITECT

British Architect Jonathan Ashmore of RIBA-chartered practice ANARCHITECT  recently completed work on The Harding Boutique Hotel, a six-suite independent boutique hotel situated in Sri Lanka’s lush Southern Province.

The Harding Boutique Hotel was born out of a passionate vision between client and architect, paying homage to the Sri Lankan architectural genre of Tropical Modernism and its founder Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel has recently opened to the public in the surf-break and coastal town of Ahangama in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka, and as with Bawa’s later works, it explores modernism with local cultural implications and the area’s natural resources for a uniquely recognizable vernacular. 

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

The hotel’s elevated ocean-facing rooms features open-air private baths and rain showers, in addition the garden rooms are dual-aspect with open-air rain-showers and purposefully framed views out into the lush palm trees, acting as interiors’ extended artwork. The naturally ventilated central staircase with intimate seated nooks on the mid-landings that are both contemplative and social, organically inhabited by guests and visitors at their own leisure as they ascend towards the open-air roof terrace complete with a restaurant for up to 40 diners.

The facades to the staircase and private balconies are purposely dynamic and interactive for the guests to easily manipulate by hand to alter the building, as the sunlight and tropical weather transforms throughout the day and into the evening. The cross-ventilated café space overlooks the infinity-edge swimming pool; with pink pigmented pool deck taking inspiration from the clay color of the surrounding earth. These key architectural features resonate and fulfill an authentic Sri Lankan experience in a new and contemporary way; for those looking for an escape and immersive experience.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

We caught up with founding principle at ANARCHITECT, Jonathan Ashmore, to discuss the project’s unique design features and the materials used throughout.

Where did the conversation with the client begin and what was their brief?

The client is an Australian – Sri Lankan self-financed entrepreneur, an individual with a deep connection to Sri Lanka from childhood, who’s Great Uncle was the first hotelier to commission the Sri Lankan Architect; Geoffrey Bawa to design a hotel on the island.

His brief for ANARCHITECT was to create a boutique hotel that would be an extension of his own passion for hospitality and relationship with Sri Lanka, translated into a contemporary and contextual piece of architecture and design.

The Client first discovered ANARCHITECT’s work through our website and global press coverage and was closely following our work on our social media channels. He also discovered that we were already visiting and working on the island on a private coastal villa estate project for another client, relatively close to his plot in the Southern Province, and the connection was made.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

Tell us about some of the new design features that were unique to this project?

At the heart of the project is a cross ventilated open staircase that ascends three floors to the rooftop. At each half-landing between first floor and the rooftop, we created a nook within the design that opens out views towards the adjacent coconut palms and creates a pause space to relax, converse or for social interaction between guests and visitors.

The plot was very narrow (six metres), which meant that only three of the six guest rooms could face towards the ocean. We elevated the new building vertically with each floor plate following the footprint of the plot and the ‘kink’ in the eastern boundary line that runs adjacent to a private lane leading to the beach. This meant that we could align the rear rooms to have a partial-ocean view and also dual aspect with views of the neighbour palm groves and views of the dynamic village high-street to the rear of the property so that guests can observe the local life and daily routines of Ahangama’s Sri Lankan community.

It was this local dynamism and the presence of the swaying palm groves dotted along plots on the coastline that inspired some of the design decisions made for the hotel. We purposefully made elements of the building’s façade interactive to allow guests to easily manipulate louvers, blinds, and screens whether for more or less privacy or as a response to the abrupt changes in weather that also makes the Harding Boutique Hotel as dynamic as the local town of Ahangama in which it is located.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

Can you talk about the use of materials throughout?

The main structure of the building is concrete, this provides structural stability to an area that had previously been damaged during the 2004 Tsunami, but also withstands the corrosive sea-spray that would quickly erode a steel or timber structure that would have significantly reduced the longevity of the building.

The infill walls were made using locally sourced and manufactured thermo-clay blocks, exterior plaster finishes utilised the local techniques, creating weather-proof satin-polished surfaces. The louvered facades are a combination of lightweight aluminium sections in hard-to-reach areas requiring zero or minimal maintenance and local Palm wood where the material is less exposed to climate and within human touch throughout the interstitial spaces of the staircase and reception.

All materials were locally sourced within Sri Lanka and we also worked with local carpenters for the bespoke interior timber joinery using local hardwoods and plasterers to execute the durable polished plaster finishes, locally known as ‘titanium concrete ‘found in the bathroom areas and around the pink pool deck.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

How did you tackle issues surrounding sustainability?

As with each and every ANARCHITECT project, we first look at the fundamental principles of passive design wherever in the world to understand the climate, the sun path, prevailing wind direction and suitability and adaptability of the project program towards the local culture and community.

Harding Boutique Hotel is in an area with relatively basic construction infrastructure, so from the outset, we consciously chose to research local building techniques and the available materials and craftsmanship to work into our design approach for the project. Our plot (previously a tsunami destroyed house) had a very small footprint. Rather than looking into expanding further horizontally and damaging vegetation, we elevated the new building vertically with three-floors and a rooftop that follow the same height of the adjacent mature palm trees to also create a new perspective of the nature and the coastline for the guests.

Being a coastal project, the sea-spray and high-salt content in the air also meant that the choice of construction materials need to withstand this tough, corrosive environment to ensure longevity as a paramount approach to sustainability.

The warm temperatures throughout the year and the monsoon rains, means that vernacular buildings are rarely required to be heated or cooled mechanically and rather rely on permeability within their designs to allow for shading from the sun and cross-ventilation from the prevailing winds. The hotel is predominantly cooled naturally, harnessing the predominant wind that blows along the coastline from East to West. Within the guest rooms, the only area that has mechanical air-conditioned is the bedroom itself, whilst the bathroom; shower and bath areas are open-air and take advantage of the tropical views too.

In Sri Lanka, we also observed that simple layers of the building facades are used to protect inhabitants from the dynamic and changing monsoon climate in primitive but effective ways. Monsoon blinds, shutters, screens, and louvers, all manually controlled by hand were also introduced to the facades of Harding Boutique Hotel, not only to protect and maintain the building from the climate, but also to consciously engage the guests in theses mechanical actions in a positive and interactive way, teaching them the local methods of working with the climate, perhaps different from their home country.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

What was the most challenging part about this project?

The project’s location in the Southern Province meant that it was nearly three-hours on a highway from the capital, Colombo. Also, the area is predominantly a fishing community with minimal infrastructure to support modern or complex construction methods.

From the outset, ANARCHITECT heavily researched local construction techniques and available materials and local craftsmanship to understand the foundations from which were designing and to explore where we could challenge these conventions within the design process to create a new contemporary design for the client that would push the boundaries of local construction but remain feasible and durable.

This challenge to overcome local conventions, work with a limited palette of materials (which also included import restrictions during the pandemic) meant that we had to clearly communicate our progressive design intent for the project  through detailed  drawings  and milestone site visits throughout the construction process, working closely with regular weekly (sometimes daily) digital communication with the builder, local craftsman and the clients operations team (chef, general manager etc.) to ensure the vision for the project was delivered in full for the Client.

Photography by Edmund Sumner
Photography by Edmund Sumner

How would you describe this project in three words?

Understated contextual modernism.

Anarchitect.com | @anarchitect_co

Photography by Edmund Sumner | @edmundsumner

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