The built has an innately dominant physical presence. How does one balance this against the context of nature ? Geoffrey Bawa, known to articulate the landscape, does so beautifully in the case of Kandalama.
The hotel in Central Sri Lanka, is set on a site that is amidst the forest along the Kandalama reservoir. The site originally proposed near the Sigiriya Rock lacked a sense of drama. Bawa instead proposed the site to be closer to the water, accessible only through a trail. Here, they were faced with two options – to place the program in the middle of the water on an island, or along the ridge. Eventually, the ridge was chosen for it offered picturesque views of the reservoir.
Where do we place the building ? ; Source : Google maps 3D
The ridge also catered to the drama that Bawa was looking for. The trail passage screened views of the reservoir and hotel only to culminate in a dramatic expose at the entrance porch.
Screening views on both sides; Source : Google maps 3D
By screening views, the approach builds anticipation in the minds of the user. Glimpses of the reservoir tease the user traversing the trail.
The grand expose; Source : Google maps 3D
The entry porch becomes a grand expose of both the building and the reservoir. This expose is manifest in the form of a dialogue between the building, the site, reservoir and of course, the user. The built form seems to emerge from the hills, as if green curtains are being drawn to allow us to view the building. If Bawa was looking to deliver a dramatic experience, the site did half the job.
Bawa extends this drama to the entrance, creating a cave like space, modulating light and the feel of the space. The user becomes conscious of the jagged rock walls and smooth, turning walls that lead one further within the hotel.
Texture, light, intrigue.
Someone wise once told me that “The best gift we could give nature is the gift of neglect”. And this becomes a vital truth in our rapidly urbanizing world. The Kandalama hotel exemplifies this beautifully. Although he faced much resistance from environmentalists during its conception, it is a project that embodies coexistence with nature.
Bawa puts his knowledge of gardens and landscape to use here – he lets the plants be. The effort to tame nature or organise it is limited to the terraced lawns. The views framed by plants and the terraces are left to their natural best.
A project to be looked from, rather than to be looked at. With its simple trabeated structure and spatial organisation, the Kandalama is an architecture where the built takes backstage and lets the landscape shine.