by Robert Powell
When the owners of Kamalaya first showed me their land I was immediately captured by its drama, just as they had been. Kamalaya is situated on a truly extraordinary coastal landscape, climbing from a pristine reef-protected beach to a 55 meter high hilltop. A palm filled valley leads to a steep hill scattered with gigantic granite boulders, their surfaces rounded by million of years of exposure and patterned with lichen, moss and ferns. The hillside is also forested with tropical trees and rises in a series of natural terraces to the hilltop plateau with spectacular 360 views of the sea, beach, outlying islands, and jungle hills.
What we agreed on at the beginning was an approach to this site that would take advantage of its special qualities, not imposing on the setting but to enhance and direct attention to the features of the landscape. The buildings would fit into the site with minimum disturbance and would embrace the rocks and slopes and trees, not see them as obstacles.
As an architect and artist whose interest in vernacular building has kept me in Asia for 30 years I nevertheless thought that the typical "Thai-style" villa would really be an anomaly on this site. This type of structure is traditionally rooted in the North, amongst expanses of rice fields and seemed an inappropriate response to the hilly, rocky beachside of Koh Samui. Instead, the style of Kamalaya is "simple tropical modern."
The buildings were designed to take full advantage of their individual setting; the views, the rocks, the trees, and their relationship to other buildings. The mood, the feeling, was to be quiet and peaceful, spacious and expansive, natural and very comfortable, not extravagant nor over-designed. Instead of the luxury of expensive material and opulence there is the greater richness of space, light and unique views over a very special seascape.
Existing rocks and trees become the defining elements for designs that incorporated them into the form and even the structure of the buildings. For example, the twin trunk tree in the middle of the Wellness reception area; the rock wall with the hanging roots of the ficus tree that the day-treatment rooms and pool cluster around; the giant boulders that form the walls and the floor of villas at the top of the valley.
Few designers have the privilege to work with such a site and such a brief. I was clear that this rare chance must be reflected in a respect for the beauty and integrity of the land and its special character. That also seemed the naturally appropriate design method for a Wellness Sanctuary dedicated to the health and growth of individuals.