A zero-emission villa in Thailand sets a new benchmark for eco-friendly resort design.
It may appear like something out of The Flinstones, but the new Eco Villa at Six Senses’ Soneva Kiri resort is anything but prehistoric. Set in its own jungle clearing on the island of Koh Kood, not far from where Thailand’s eastern seaboard rubs up against Cambodia, this deceivingly rustic-looking amalgam of natural materials and environmentally friendly engineering might just represent the future of sustainable luxury.
The villa’s exterior is a patchwork of sandstone boulders, held in place with buffalo-skin glue and jaggery. The roof sprouts native grass and ferns, making the perfect nest for a menagerie of birds. Inside, mud-brick walls are plastered with a mix of clay and rice husk, radiating a warm glow. Look up, and you’ll find that the ceiling is lined with teakwood leaves; logs of casuarina driftwood serve as rafters.
Since inception in 1995, Bangkok-based Six Senses Resorts & Spas has built a reputation for its down-to-earth commitment to the environment. Still, the Eco Villa at Soneva Kiri- the group’s third Soneva-brand property, and the first outside the Maldives- takes this dedication to new levels.
Louis Thompson, whose official title at Six Senses is “director of green building,” designed the villa, basing it on the naturally ventilated Meewok tepees of his native California. “The idea,” he says, “was to create a house with a strong connection to the earth.” The result is a surprisingly stylish, carbon-free suite- a prototype residence that Thompson hopes will form the basis of the group’s new brand, Evaluations by Six Senses.
Getting here was not easy: Thompson employed a team of Thai craftsmen to fashion the villa and its furnishings, and sought out cutting-edge environmental technologies to ensure guest comfort was not compromised. The villa may be powered solely by solar panels and a wind turbine, but that’s sufficient to heat water for the outdoor shower, run an air conditioner and a Phillips Eco TV, and power an electric buggy. Meter-thick walls and a cellulous-insulated roof keep the bedroom naturally cool, but should you need to chill out further, there’s a chemical-free swimming pool filled with rainwater filtered through the surrounding reed beds. Other unexpected touches include a domed mud-brick wine cellar, used during construction as a kiln for baking terracotta pipes and downspouts.
“Using natural ventilation and permaculture principals,” Thompson says, “we’re hoping to achieved the same level of comfort here as in a conventional Six Senses villa.” He might have added, and with a price to match: a night here costs US$1,192, and that’s in the low season. Still, for travelers who are passionate about minimizing their ecological footprint, that seems a small price to pay.