Datai Hotel

Datai Hotel in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia by Kerry Hill Architects, 1993

Recipient of an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001, the Datai Hotel by Australia's Kerry Hill Architects was completed in 1993 in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia. The design was recognized for its sensitive approach to its surrounding, in particular the coast, the topography and the indigenous vegetation of the site. Although a tourist development the five-star hotel does not dominate the landscape or occupy valuable beachfront property, instead it finds a balance with its surroundings away from the coast.

Situated on a ridge high above the waterfront the site includes untouched rainforest, swamps, streams and wildlife, with spectacular views of the ocean from the hotel. Although the program contains 84 hotel rooms, 40 villas, a swimming pool and spa, restaurants, and a beach house, the first is split among four "blocks" and the latter uses are spread around the site in pavilions. This maneuver, coupled with vernacular construction, including raising the buildings on stilts and deep overhangs, gives the complex a remarkable site sensitivity.

The architect reduced the need for clearing trees in the hotel and pavilion locations, while also using trained elephants instead of bulldozers to fell trees where necessary, since the animals cause less damage than manmade machines. Additionally, building materials add to the site sensitivity, with exposed wood allowed to age naturally with vegetation creeping up the bases of the structures.

Each of the architect's approaches to the site - location, construction and materials - gives the hotel an attachment to its surroundings that is enhanced by the exterior walkways and program spaces. In the words of the Aga Kahn Development Network, "The popularity of the hotel with its clients is a testament to the responsible and sensitive approach adopted by the architect, who has provided a sense of luxury and sophistication while respecting a remote natural environment."