Above: Soneva Kiriâ€™s Eco Villa blends almost seamlessly with its environment.
A villa in Thailand sets a new benchmark for eco-friendly resort design.
By Leisa Tyler
Photographs by Leisa Tyler
It may appear like something out of The Flintstones, but the new Eco Villa at Six Sensesâ€™ Soneva Kiri resort is anything but prehistoric. Set in its own jungle clearing on the island of Koh Kood, not far from where Thailandâ€™s eastern seaboard rubs up against Cambodia, this deceivingly rustic-looking amalgam of naturalÂ materials and environmentally sound engineering might just represent the future of sustainable luxury.
The villaâ€™s exterior is a patchwork of stones held in place with buffalo-skin glue and jaggery. The roof sprouts native grass and ferns, among which birds have nested. Inside, mud-brick walls plastered with a mix of clay and rice husk radiate a warm glow. Look up, and youâ€™ll find that the ceiling is lined with teak leaves; logs of casuarina driftwood serve as rafters.
Since its inception in 1995, Bangkok-based Six Senses Resorts & Spas has built a reputation for its commitment to the environment. Still, the Eco Villa at Soneva Kiri takes this dedication to a new level. Louis Thompson, the groupâ€™s â€śdirector of green building,â€ť designed the structure, basing it on the naturally ventilated Miwok tepees of northern California. â€śThe idea,â€ť he says, â€śwas to create a house with a strong connection to the earth.â€ť The result is a surprisingly stylish, carbon-free suiteâ€”a prototype residence that Thompson hopes will form the basis of Six Sensesâ€™ forthcoming zero-emissions resort brand, Evaluations.
Thompson recruited a team of Thai craftsmen to fashion the villa and its furnishings, and sought out cutting-edge environmental technologies to ensure guest comfort was not compromised. Solar panels and a wind turbine may be the Eco Villaâ€™s sole sources of energy, but thatâ€™s sufficient to heat water for the outdoor shower, run an air conditioner and a Phillips Eco TV, and power an electric buggy. Meter-thick walls and a cellulose-insulated roof keep the interiors naturally cool, while the chemical-free swimming pool is filled with rainwater filtered through surrounding reed beds. Other innovative touches include a domed mud-brick wine cellar, used during construction as a kiln for baking terra-cotta pipes and downspouts.
â€śUsing green-building principals,â€ť Thompson says, â€śweâ€™ve tried to achieve the same level of comfort here as in a normal Six Senses villa.â€ť Such comfort doesnâ€™t come cheap: a night in the Eco Villa costs US$1,192, and thatâ€™s in the low season. Still, for travelers who are passionate about minimizing their ecological footprint, that seems a small price to pay (66-3/961-9800; sixsenses.com).
Originally appeared in the April/May 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śSecond Nature”)