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Monday, November 10, 2008

Alila Cha-Am

Alila Cha-Am in Petchaburi, Thailand by Duangrit Bunnang Architect Limited

Photographs are by DBALP.

Cha-Am is a former fishing village located on the sunrise side of The Gulf of Thailand, about 2-1/2 hours south of Bangkok. The white sand beaches of the area have made it an appealing vacation destination, one now home to Alila Cha-An, a beachside resort designed by Thailand's own Duangrit Bunnang Architect Limited (DBALP).

Arrival at the resort is via monumental stone stairs that lead to a covered entry. This first glimpse hints at what lies beyond: the cover spans two parallel buildings oriented east-west. Once through this portal the design is laid out in front of the visitor, with simple wood and conrete structures overlooking a reflecting pool on axis with the stairs and the water beyond. This space recalls Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, where bi-lateral symmetry orients space towards an infinite vista.

This bi-lateral symmetry pervades the design, from this main axis between the two main bars of buildings to the Chill Pool and even pathways that balance trees and gabion walls. This isn't to say that axis and symmetry are the only things happening in the design; they are balanced by variety in materials, window openings, and changes in levels. Even with the straightforward layout of the buildings and their orthogonal shapes, a complex network of paths and movement is created, with gradients from communal to private via "a labyrinth of private terraces and courtyards."

Notions of privacy and intimacy are important for the resort...for any resort. Alila Cha-Am is both a destination -- a place where different people come together -- and a respite. The architects must contend with spaces for groups (restaurants, pools) and individuals or couples (rooms, villas, spas). The outdoor spaces balance these poles, as do the buildings themselves, where levels of transparency vary from wide open in the restaurant to more selective in the private rooms. The solid materials of wood and stone gabions add further definition, the latter an especially strong demarcation between public and private zones.

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