Sirru Fen Fushi Fairmont Maldives is a one kilometre long and 250 metre wide island situated in the Shaviyani Atoll of the Maldives. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, this 16 hectare island with 120 keys enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations. The main design challenge was to realise the client’s vision for a landscape that would differentiate the resort from the other resorts in the Maldives. This necessitated an entirely different approach from the way a landscape would ordinarily be planned and designed.
When the design process commenced in 2016, case studies of other resorts in the Maldives were conducted. Simultaneously, the landscape architect studied the works of earth artists and naturalist such as Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, Cristo and Jeanne Claude’s “Surrounded Island” and “Floating Piers”, Cristo’s “Umbrellas”, Andy Goldsworthy’s “Gold Rock”, Donald Judd’s “Concrete Windows”, Nancy Holt’s “Sun Tunnel” and many more. These artists were often able to visualise and see the potential of an ordinary places in an unorthodox way, transforming them into extraordinary and meaningful experiences through the introduction of bold, straightforward art elements or the reconfiguration and reuse of indigenous elements that are often forgotten or disregarded. The result challenges the rethinking of a place; focussing attention to appreciate the realisation, through landscape design, of its hidden potential.
Inspired by these artistic philosophies, the landscape architects sought to reveal the latent potential of the island so as to design a unique resort. The central design element was proposed as a 200 metres long and 10metres wide Water Axis that spanned across the heart of the island, from East to West. This striking feature would be the centre of the activities for the resort.
This design proposal challenged the orthodox approach to resort planning in the Maldives that dictated the villas, amenities and facilities to be located along the sea frontage with views of the horizon, and the beaches.
Instead, through the introduction of the long, linear water axis, the central core of the resort became the centre of attention. The facilities, amenities and activities surrounding the water axis created a sense of purpose. The water axis emphasises and accentuates the scenic views. Its geographical significance generates a more purposeful and attentive place. It provides the resort with an unmistakable identity and unique character that are both distinctly different and dramatic.
The water axis was also designed with colour gradation, darker at the centre of the island, and lighter closer to the ocean. This draws an analogy with the transition of an inland riverine to the sea, where brackish water connects with seawater. The juxtaposition of the preserved random coconut palms within the linear pool informs and reveals the natural beauty of the island as it extends to the horizons. Both sunrise and sunset could now be witnessed within the water axis enclave where the coconut palms act like a sundial, casting shadows of different length and pattern throughout the day, adding another layer of visual interest and thermal comfort for the pool users.
The Spa is located in the eastern half of the water axis, which is the calm zone of the resort. The initial 50 metres of the water axis, near to the centre of the island, is a reflecting pool that shapes the forecourt and the entry to the spa. Within the Spa Village, the water axis transforms into functional water bodies such as the hydrotherapy pool and salt-water pool that are both designed to suit to the spa’s theme and operation. Extending out from the spa village are platforms, shelters made from indigenous wood and branches that become retreats for Yoga, Pilates and watching sunrises.
The western half of the water axis is the active and vibrant zone of the resort. Restaurant, pool bars, shops, resort centre, children’s centre and gym were strategically sited and designed on both sides of the water axis. Here, the water axis is a children’s pool, a water lounge with dining terraces, an aqua lounge, and a 50 metres lap pool that has an infinity edge providing a perfect foreground to a dramatic sunset over the Indian ocean. Both ends of the water axis were purposefully extended as a breakwater functioning as a wave break and a shore protection feature.
The design of the private gardens for the beach villas received careful thought and crafting. They were designed as extended outdoor living areas to provide an opportunity for guests to swim, shower, dine and even rest in their private gardens. These extensive private gardens, with their own pools, dining salas, hammocks and timber-decked lounging terraces were surrounded with lush preserved native vegetation that was seamlessly integrated with the beach and ocean beyond.
The landscape architect was responsible for all areas outside the buildings and undertook full scope from Concept Design to Site Supervision. The design intent, layout, resolution and documentation of the water axis and the outdoor gardens of the facilities zone, beach villas landscape, accessibility path and boardwalks were all the professional design work of the landscape architect.
Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
The key environmental issues and challenges in the Maldives are mostly related to global warming. The prospect is more unpredictable weather, ever-rising water levels and beaches that are eroding resulting in the loss of habitat that supports the maintenance of both flora and fauna. This could impact the natural ecosystem and habitat at the island.
The landscape strategy for the Sirru Fen Fushi Resort is to be both sustainable and resilient. The strategy is to maintain and reinforce the existing natural landscape character, by creating an environmentally balanced and sustainable native landscape composed of the very same elements of water, native shrubs and groundcovers, palms and trees, while at the same time considering protective measures through planting to ensure a future-proof project.
Aside from the shore protection measures introduced by the environmentalist to counter the loss of the beach front and its vegetation that supports wildlife, an additional green buffer zone was demarcated along the existing beach frontage. Wave tolerant plants such as Pemphis acidula (ironwood), Scaevola taccada and Talipariti tiliaceum were reintroduced in groups in these areas as an added layer of protection to defend the coastline during the most volatile period of the monsoon.
Situated in the more remote north of the Maldives Archipelago, where logistics is often an issue, preservation and propagation of existing native plants were also crucial in ensuring that the overall framework of an idyllic natural landscape is preserved. The design philosophy is to portray an overall experience of the resort landscape as an organic landscape that had always been there with buildings sensitively inserted amongst the natural landscape.
As an onsite plant nursery was also created on the island, it continues to play its role as a strong backbone for the regeneration and introduction of the native landscape throughout the island even after the project was completed.
Client: GBH Maldives Resorts Pvt. Ltd.
Design Architect: SCSY Studio Singapore
Interior Designer: Hirsch Bedner Associates
Lighting Designer: Bo Steiber Lighting Design Singapore
Project location: Unit 2B Faamdheyrige, Orchid Magu, Malé, Maldives, Shaviyani Atoll 20209
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2018