ANARCHITECT pays homage to tropical modernism in new Sri-Lankan boutique hotel

The first Harding Boutique Hotel designed by British Architect Jonathan Ashmore of RIBA-chartered practice ANARCHITECT is now open in the surf-break and coastal town of Ahangama, situated in Sri Lanka’s lush Southern Province and a thirty-minute drive from the UNESCO World Heritage Site; Galle Fort.

Born out of a passionate vision between both client and architect, this six-suite independent boutique hotel pays homage to the Sri Lankan architectural genre of Tropical Modernism, in its design and architecture and bears a unique story about the project’s inspiring creation.

As with Bawa’s later works, the hotel explores modernism with local cultural implications and the areas natural resources for a uniquely recognisable vernacular.

Hotelier Paul Harding and Dubai/London-based ANARCHITECT’s Founding Principal; Jonathan Ashmore, connected through a shared admiration for Sri Lanka – its rich landscape, cultural diversity and natural hospitality.

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” says Sri Lankan – Australian entrepreneur Paul Harding.

This narrative, and connection to Geoffrey Bawa; gripped Ashmore from the very first conversation, who set out on a passionate exploration to create a property for Paul inspired by Sri Lanka’s vernacular modernist movement and located amongst dense coconut groves in the Southern Province on the footprint of an old tsunami-damaged house; just meters from the pristine beaches.

This project opportunity captivated my imagination entirely; the project became a natural progression from ANARCHITECT’s award-winning desert retreat in the Emirates (Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa) given its familiar scale and number of rooms. With an equally inspired context and contrasting climate (from the desert to the tropics) it 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.

The property is uncommon in the way that it extends vertically from a slender existing footprint to take guests up into the palm grove on a journey within an open-air feature staircase offering new perspectives of the coastline and the dense vegetation to that of a typical low-lying resort-style experience. All materials for the project were locally sourced and chosen for their longevity, given 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 building is a purist, part-brutalist form that follows the alignments of the original plot and kinks to capture the views towards the ocean and the bustling town to the rear.  The narrow East-West cross-section of the hotel encourages natural cross-ventilation that 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.

I wanted an authentic, genuine Sri Lankan experience for the hotel as this is what drew me to Paul’s project, yet which doesn’t conform to a vernacular or colonial-inspired design as 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. Together with my team, I chose to trust our proven design process of delivering projects across the world from our Dubai and London studios’’ expressed Ashmore.

The hotel’s elevated ocean-facing rooms feature open-air private baths and rain showers, the garden rooms are dual aspect with open-air rain-showers and purposefully framed views out into the lush palm trees, acting as the interiors’ extended artwork. The naturally ventilated central staircase offers 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 soil.  These key architectural features resonate and fulfil an authentic Sri Lankan experience in a new and contemporary way; for those looking for an escape and immersive experience.

The exclusive nature of this boutique scale of project is an exciting movement for the future of hotels and guest experiences in a post-pandemic world and continues ANARCHITECT’s carved niche of hospitality destinations delivered for forward-thinking clients. The intrepid journey to reach such a goal required a lot of passion, persistence and patience given the impact of the pandemic and limited import available on the island, which in turn made the project that more real and authentic upon completion.

Harding Boutique Hotels Ahangama offers a unique combination of design, intimacy and contextualism that captures a new, modern movement in Sri Lankan hospitality. It is created by those who truly believe in offering an international destination rooted in local culture and set within an inspiring piece of modern architecture and interiors; unique to its context.