Just Back From

Just Back: Yuji Yamazaki's Kudadoo Resort in the Maldives

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to discuss whether the Maldives is right for you and to learn more about coronavirus travel safety, including new COVID-19 hotel policies and future trip-planning advice, inspiration and other ideas.One thousand-plus low-lying coral islands strung like an unlatched strand of pearls along the Equator off the southwest coast of India, the Maldives is a veritable laboratory of luxury, pushing boundaries of sybaritic indulgence with each new underwater spa and overwater villa. On dozens of visits to the Maldives over the last 25 years, I have snorkeled along the kaleidoscopic coral seabed among schools of angelfish, Napoleon wrasse and the occasional turtle, thinking how lucky we are to live on a planet this beautiful. However, there has been less to love among the manmade. As Sri Lankan architect Murad Ismail explained to me soon after he completed Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru in 2004, “Engineering challenges of building in the Maldives tend to overtake design aesthetics.”So, I was all the more awed recently to discover among these low-lying specks of sand, a new architecture crush in New York-based Japanese architect Yuji Yamazaki, even before I learned that he designed Kudadoo to be powered entirely by solar energy. Kudadoo, meaning “small island” in the native tongue Dhivehi, is really a spit of shimmering white sand encircling a dense indigenous forest of ironwood, coconut palm, beach hibiscus and screw pines, including several hung with joali hammocks. Creature comforts abound in Yamazaki’s 15 sleek one- and two-bedroom unvarnished cedarwood-paneled villas—each has an indoor-outdoor bathroom with a deep soaking tub and private sundeck with overwater swimming pool. All accommodations are offshore, accessible by a horseshoe-shaped wooden jetty and rates start around $3,800 per night. Serious sybarites can take over Kudadoo for $80,000 per night.

Yamazaki had me at his imposing Retreat, the central structure at Kudadoo, which houses the restaurant, bar and spa under a bent roof lined with 984 solar panels designed by Sweden’s Solarwork. The design draws on the shape of a Maldivian dhoni sailboat, which traces its origins back to the ancient Phoenicians. It also serves as an experiment, says Yamazaki, to showcase how this small island nation could serve as a leader in sustainable development. Traditionally, solar panels are hidden in discreet areas in the Maldives, but Yamazaki, already familiar with these atolls, knew that most people first experience this unique nation from above, flying on seaplanes to their island retreats, as one does here, taking a 45-minute island hopper from the capital Malé to Lhaviyani Atoll. So he designed the photovoltaic roof to make a bold first impression from above, while crafting this hulk of a multi-purpose structure to give guests the holistic feeling of standing in a rainforest under a mesh of palm trees with its natural balance of light and shade.On closer inspection, the warm cedarwood building’s delicate geometry creates a welcoming intimacy, while minimizing electricity consumption by allowing sunlight to come through the zigzag of gaps between panels, lessening reliance on artificial light during the day. The mostly Maldivian staff will proudly share that the resort is producing 320kWp of electricity, which is sufficient to operate the entire island without diesel fuel. The resort’s Scandinavian owner projects his initial investment in this solar-powered system should be recovered within five years, by eliminating the need to import diesel fuel. For his part, Yamazaki hopes his designs provide “a fantastic example for other countries with similar climates.”
Lingering longer at this tropical idle reveals Yamazaki’s smaller—but no less thoughtful—environmental design efforts, from the plethora of overhanging roofs, umbrellas and canopies to further minimize power use to the egg crate-inspired privacy screens between villas that optimize frontal ocean views for every guest, without sacrificing privacy. The island operates its own water-bottling plant to reduce plastic consumption, as well as a collection of greenhouses.  In this one tiny corner of our precarious planet, plastic water bottles and straws have been successfully eliminated and water gets desalinated through reverse osmosis. I am even more drawn to Yamazaki’s designs, when I learn that he engineered Kudadoo with the capacity to reduce its carbon footprint by 400,000 tons per year.  For all of its impressive eco-cred and design attributes, Kudadoo is not the first time Yamazaki has made a splash in this faraway archipelago. He began designing with global CO2 reduction in mind at Finolhu, which opened in 2014 with solar panels visibly integrated throughout the resort’s design. Guest rooms rely on breezeways to minimize reliance on airconditioning despite the Maldives’ equatorial humidity. More recently, the Tokyo -born-and-bred architect went undersea in late 2018 with his stark, meditative interior design for Muraka, the Maldives first underwater sleep suite, at Conrad Maldives. At a glance, Yamazaki’s work above and beneath the Indian Ocean may appear in stark contrast to his higher profile, decidedly urban design work for Armani, W Hotels and the Calvin Klein Underwear Flagship in perennially hip Harajuku, Yamazaki’s first completed project in his native Tokyo. Yet I am drawn to the poetic simplicity that pervades Yamazaki’s creations and to his consistently pragmatic, unfussy approach. I can almost meditate on the elegant monastic austerity at Yamazaki’s Restaurant Kaserne in Basel, Switzerland, a warehouse-turned-vegetarian restaurant that’s instantly catapulted to the top of my design-driven travel wish list.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to discuss whether the Maldives is right for you and to learn more about coronavirus travel safety, including new COVID-19 hotel policies and future trip-planning advice, inspiration and other ideas.

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