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Creating Wild Coast Tented Lodge

Wild Coast Tented Lodge, situated in Yala, Sri Lanka, set a new standard for luxury safari lodges. Our island, known for its biodiversity and array of wildlife, has had its fair share of safari experiences, but nothing quite on the scale of Wild Coast. 

Its design is one of the many reasons why it is at the top of travel bucket lists for residents and tourists alike. This project was extraordinary not only because of its form and composition, but also because of its ambition. 

Challenges did arise. But, our team was able to overcome them and exceed all expectations.

The design of the lodge was by Nomadic Resorts, a company known for developing unique designs through sustainable architecture, contemporary bamboo construction, regenerative landscape form and low carbon engineering, just to name a few. This is why they were the ideal collaborator for Wild Coast, as the idea was not only to create a luxury tented resort unique in its design sensibilities, but also in terms of sustainability.

Whilst the architect designs the body, the interior designer is assigned to bring the body to life. Renowned interior designer Bo Reudler’s team from his studio came on board to capture a feeling of exploration and wonder. The team’s aim was to celebrate local craftsmanship and high-quality materials that age gracefully.

The safari lodge is characterised by rocky outcrops scattered across the landscape. These forms are echoed into the architecture of the resort, with boulder-like pavilions that are formed organically together. The ambition to minimise environmental impact and the isolated nature of the site demanded a locally-focused, sustainable approach with natural materials sourced locally as much as possible, and celebrating vernacular traditions such as mud-brick and bamboo construction. 

When it came to the interior design, as the architecture of the main pavilions resembled the rocky outcrops, Reudler’s team was inspired to look at everything you can encounter inside of rocks: caves, veins of precious metals, sparkly crystals. Sri Lanka’s nature, culture and crafts also played a big role in influencing the design. Regarding the cocoons, their look and feel of an anchored airship was the main inspiration for the interiors.

The Lodge’s waterfront bar, restaurant and library are enclosed within two dome-shaped structures clad in reclaimed teak shingles, which were designed to imitate the local landscape. “At the site, you can find massive boulders along the coastline,” explains Olav Bruin, creative director at Nomadic Resorts. “So, when we started sketching and brainstorming the same evening after our visit, we felt that the best approach would be to design buildings that would become part of the natural surroundings, and we shaped them like a cluster of intersecting boulders. At a more detailed level, it was important to us that the buildings would weather gracefully. We chose to therefore use reclaimed teak shakes with a rough surface. These will turn grey over time with different tones, which will make the buildings look even more like the surrounding rock surfaces.”

Being a safari lodge, the protection and preservation of wildlife was an important factor. Therefore, the first decision was to not build any fencing around the property, and build in a relatively low density, so that wildlife could roam uninterrupted across the site.

“The next important element is that we added large ponds which are fed with the grey water of the surrounding cluster of cocooned suites,” explains Olav further. “The flora of the site is quite monotonous with only a few bush and tree species, so the ponds gave us the opportunity to increase the biodiversity of the site with other species found in the area.”

Within the bamboo structures, seating was made from a combination of elephant dung and clay. “Excavated stone and locally quarried quartz is used widely throughout, and residue clay from the gravel-sifting process was mixed with elephant dung – an abundant resource – to create the restaurant and welcome-area mud-brick seating,” said Bruin.

Alongside the main buildings, the studio placed 36 lightweight cocooned structures within the forest that act as guest rooms. These buildings were prefabricated off-site to minimise the impact during construction and raised on stilts to reduce the impact on the landscape. They are designed so they can be disassembled and leave only a minimal impact on the site.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan. However, a curveball was thrown our way. The team who were responsible for the construction of the bamboo structures had to pull out of the project with short notice. With deadlines looming, this was an unexpected challenge with no easy solutions, as not just anyone could be recruited to construct a bamboo structure of this design and scale.

At what seemed to be the very last minute, another team came on board to oversee the bamboo construction. However, there remained the question of the construction crew. A decision was made to recruit and train the local fishermen of Kirinda to help. 80 fishermen with no prior experience in construction, let alone bamboo construction, were given a crash course and then began their work. They exceeded all expectations; were fast learning and delivered an outcome that resembled a team of craftsmen who have worked with bamboo for years.

“Since our CEO Louis Thompson was based in Sri Lanka at that time and the skills for the more complicated elements of the project like the bamboo and tensile membrane structures were not easily available, we decided to set up a construction company to build the front of house facilities and accommodation units ourselves,” explained Bruin.

“This resulted in a very inclusive construction process and collaboration between local and international craftsmen, combining vernacular techniques with contemporary architecture,” he continued.

The Kirinda fishermen made the project more meaningful, as engagement with the local community is something we at Resplendent value above all things. 

With the team in place, the project was completed and Wild Coast Tented Lodge was opened on 27 October, 2017.

Since then, our lodge has been making headlines for all the right reasons. One of the main objectives of our build was to be sustainable, which we achieved with our building materials. Consisting of reclaimed recycled teak shingles and sustainable bamboo, the low impact, innovative design blends also seamlessly with the local landscape. Bamboo is probably the fastest growing renewable building material in the world and therefore one of the most sustainable. Even though it is sometimes still referred to as ‘the poor man’s timber’, Nomadic Resorts have been using it for over 12 years in luxury hospitality projects.

Alongside its design, are our sustainable waste management methods. These include a sewage treatment plant to recycle wastewater and a digester that converts food waste into biogas that fuels our staff kitchen. A desalination plant allows us to use seawater for general resort use as portable water is scarce in the area. To contribute to a greener energy footprint, our rooftop solar unit offsets one-third of the electricity that we extract from the national grid (which comprises mostly fossil fuels). The lodge also has solar panels installed on the roofs of some back-of-house buildings that produce around 40% of its energy.

Our sustainability initiatives have been recognised by prestigious publications such as Escape.com, who listed us amongst global pioneers for implementing sustainability practices that help protect our planet.

Since we opened, we have had our fair share of ups and downs. However, our faithful guests have been a support system during troubled times and inspire us to keep doing better and keep moving forward. 

Wild Coast Tented Lodge won UNESCO’s Prix Versailles for Worlds’ Best Restaurant Design in 2018, was recognised in the Conde Nast Traveller 2018 Hot List, Harper’s Bazaar 2018 Travel Guide and 2019 Tatler Travel Guide. The lodge was shortlisted for Hospitality Building of the Year at the 2019 Dezeen Awards and won the Best Resort Design category at the 2019 AHEAD Asia Awards. It was also voted Number 5 at Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award and was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bawa Awards for Excellence in Architecture in 2020.

With Wild Coast, we wanted to be an example of the Resplendent Ceylon’s vision of giving guests the best in luxury and comfort, whilst doing what is best for our planet.

Now that Sri Lanka’s borders are open to foreign travellers, we look forward to having you stay with us and experience the resort for yourself.

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