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Framing Paradise

Kothaifaru Island, Republic of Maldives

Studiogoto’s design of Alila Kothaifaru epitomises a new architectural wave in the Maldives

The Maldives is well established as one of the world’s most luxurious beach destinations. Of the 1,200 coral islands clustered into paradisiacal atolls – each with turquoise waters lapping palm-covered sand bank and beneath, marine life in abundance – around 100 are high-end resorts. Traditionally, thatched roofs and superlative features dominated the style, yet a new generation of resort is emerging with a distinct shift towards eco-minimalism. The opening of Alila on Kothaifaru island in the Northern Raa Atoll this summer is a case in point.

Singapore-based design practice Studiogoto developed a bold, biophilic vision with low-slung concrete villas slotting into the natural vegetation like Tetris blocks. The aim was to conserve up to 70% of the existing plant life and indeed the experience from within the villas is as if living in a jungle. Floor-to-ceiling windows, glass sliding doors and open-air bathrooms offer instant immersion into the surrounding landscape. The design is deliberately uncomplicated, adopting minimalist principles for maximum impact. No presidential suite, underwater restaurant or grand lobby, instead cantilevered layers of monochrome lines, providing a simple backdrop to amplify the true hero here, the natural environment.

Lush greenery hangs from the beach villa roofs. The outdoor bathroom allows for the unique experience of watching fruit bats in the trees while soaking in a bathtub. From the water bungalows, shoals of jumping fish greet the morning sun, glistening as they dance across the ocean surface. And at night as the stars sparkle above, bioluminescent plankton mirrors that spectacle in the sea below. This is the magic the Maldives are famed for, and Alila’s design ethos serves to frame this natural spectacle.

The villas are designed for guests to look out, rather than look at and the water bungalows in particular illustrate this thinking. With an almost brutalist exterior these concrete cubes are all about the comfort and sensational views once inside. Room layouts are intuitive and well-thought through, to effortlessly move from swimming in the sea to relaxing under the rain shower. Whether on the sunrise or sunset side, guests are continually enveloped in the breathtaking ocean panorama. 

Throughout the resort, the ease with which guests transition from indoor to outdoor living is seamless. Each villa has a private plunge pool, with 40 identical beach villas and 36 slightly smaller water bungalows in total. Two separate pavilions house the restaurants, Seasalt – overlooking the infinity pool – and Umami – with Japanese-inspired fusion cuisine. Both share a minimalist interior with earthy tones of timber and sand. Then, elevated among the native trees, the Spa continues the sense of garden living with a treetop walkway that leads into the individual treatment huts.

Alila Kothaifaru is clearly dedicated to honouring the island’s resources. Experiences include coconut tours followed by cocktail making classes, yet the marine life is what makes the Maldives. On site, the Eurodivers team arrange boat excursions guided by marine biologists, for divers and snorkelers to explore local reef sites. There, a multitude of tropical fish dart around healthy coral, navigating reef sharks and the odd manta ray – a reminder of why nature conservation deserves to play a crucial part in today’s design movement.