Element of surprise: a canny design approach at Alila Hotels and Resorts

Element of surprise: a canny design approach at Alila Hotels and Resorts

When Mark Edelson, Frederic Simon and Franky Tjahyadikarta and their partners launched Alila resorts back in 2001, they couldn’t have guessed that 17 years later, the brand would become known not just for its quiet parsing of restrained luxury, but also a byword for responsible, sustainable tourism. But then again, when the name of your brand is Sanskrit for ‘surprise’, the unexpected becomes par for the course.

Most of Alila’s resorts are based in Asia – beginning with the originals in Indonesia and sweeping up sprawling bucolic estates in China – though, in recent years, it has gained footholds in the Middle East and America. But regardless of the destination, each resort features an absorbing mix of contemporary architecture accented with local flourishes, history, dramatic landscapes, and culture. It is a DNA that has served Alila well. Customisation to local nuances means that it avoids the monotonously repetitive and unadventurous design that can bedevil small boutique properties.

At Alila Solo, for instance, rooms are softly accented by light timber and dreamy murals inspired by wayang (traditional Indonesian puppet operas), whilst commanding views of the imposing silhouettes of volcanoes that ring around the city. The pavilions and villas of Alila Villas Koh Russey, meanwhile, which will debut in Cambodia’s Koh Rong archipelago this year, infuse the contemporary mood-board with distinctive Khmer patterns and geometry. And at Alila Yangshuo, a refurbished sugar mill set against the craggy Guilin hills blends local stone and bamboo to evoke the sense of exploring a karst cave, the whole never in danger of descending into a literal trope or, worse, kitsch.

This tricky balancing act owes much to the efforts of a crack corps of experienced architects, artisans and designers that Alila has assembled over the years. Richard Hassell, the co-principal of the Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA which was behind the modernist classicism of Alila Uluwatu in Bali, also credits Alila’s success and longevity to a canny marrying of sensitive design and sustainability. ‘They are the key cornerstones of the brand,’ he says, adding that the group’s ‘top management really understand the power of good design to create enormous value for their properties.’

The ideal of sustainability is particularly crucial to the Alila story, not the least of which is its commitment to EarthCheck certification, minimising carbon dioxide emissions, on-site nurseries, and low-density structures. And while these measures are not necessarily obvious as guests lounge indolently by the lap-pool and survey the panorama, so seamlessly have they been incorporated into the resort’s hidden infrastructure, they do add a certain frisson of feel-good inevitability to the experience.

All of which adds up to a canny design approach that will serve Alila well. As Hassell adds, good design can ‘supercharge a beautiful site into something sublime. Alila understands this and it’s why we continue to work with them.’

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