Do No Harm

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Written by Conrad Smith, Managing Director, ReardonSmith Architects

A colleague told me about her holiday in Cyprus last year which included staying in a coastal town that she had last visited 20 years ago. Her recollection was of a village that cascaded haphazardly down to the sea, all low-rise buildings that had settled into the hillside over the decades. From a boat out at sea, she could barely identify the little town amongst the vegetation and contours of the land. It was this pleasant memory that made her decide to take her family there two decades on. What she found was the “village” re-named The Old Town, still delightful but suffocating under the weight of a large high-rise new town stretching west and east along the coast. This time, looking up from a boat she saw only hillsides scarred by buildings that paid no respect at all to the landscape, a number of which were already semi-derelict. A man-made wasteland created in just 20 years. She won’t be going back.

My company masterplans and designs resorts and, personally, I am very fond of my fortnight in the Mediterranean sunshine every year, so I am the last person denounce the development of coastal destinations. However, it is all about how they are designed. Given that it’s very likely that resorts are going to be developed in attractive locations, surely the opportunity for the architect is to celebrate what nature has created over centuries, not destroy it. Do no harm (or at least as little as possible) is quite a good starting point. Respect the topography of the site, don’t break through the tree canopy and think before replacing pines with palms if the former have flourished in the region for centuries.

This argument now has the added layer of “sustainability” on its side. To my mind “eco” and “travel” hold the fundamental contradiction of the emissions each one of us generates in getting to our destination and then probably in indulging ourselves once we are there. As architects and designers, though, we can mitigate this in how we plan and detail our schemes and in our insistence on another mantra: “designing for longevity”. Far from reducing the quality of the leisure experience, such an approach will ensure a sense of well-being and positive memories  – everything from the perfect sunset views from the bedroom balcony (because the building has been carefully oriented), to the easy but intriguing way-finding through the village (because regard has been given to place legibility) to the sight of wild nesting birds in the distance (because their native habitat is undisturbed). If we design resorts today with such values in mind, I am sure they have a much better chance of preserving their original intent and attraction over the next 20 years, even if they expand.

With that thought in mind, it seemed appropriate to ask today’s architectural and design students to masterplan a luxury resort on the Adriatic coast, including a hotel, multiple food & beverage outlets, a spa, retail and residential accommodation. While the annual Sleep ReardonSmith Student Award is based each year on a different fictitious scenario, we hope in this way to excite and challenge the future creators – and consumers – of hotels and resorts to think about not what merely is, but what might be. 

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