This resort features a design Inspired by Sri Lanka’s Sacred and Colonial Treasures
Anantara Kalutara Resort’s design both complements and showcases its unique location between the Indian Ocean and Kalu Ganga with river and lagoon frontage. The resort blends seamlessly with the island’s tropical beauty and rich culture.
In early 1995 Geoffrey Bawa was commissioned by a former pioneer in Sri Lanka Tourism, to design a hotel on a site between the estuary of the Kalu Ganga and the Indian Ocean.
Faced with a magnificent view of the lagoon on the northern and eastern sides and a long stretch of beach on the western side, but with a public road running through its property, Bawa’s aim was to connect the two sides which he achieved by marking the site with a three storied wall. This concept of corridors hidden within large multistoried walls may be compared to the design of the gymnasium at Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli.
Work stopped on the project in late 1995 with the escalation of the war in the north of the country. The dream of another unique approach to hotel design made by Geoffrey Bawa lay dormant for the next several years which was compounded by Bawa being struck down by illness in 1998 and eventually passing away in 2003.
Much of the construction, particularly on the seaside and the lagoon side, where the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 struck the site was demolished. However the central public spaces were saved, preserving the core ideas that Geoffrey Bawa had thought up for the site. The “wall” would live on!
Channa Daswatte from MICD, who previously worked for Bawa, was appointed lead architect. The brief was to capitalise on the ocean and river views. In many ways the hotel conforms to the Bawa ideals of non air-conditioned spaces that open onto beautiful waterscapes, with only the essential spaces enclosed and tucked away out of necessity.
Strikingly simple, the main building has a Dutch colonial style with an impressive soaring gable roof of terracotta half-round clay tiles. An iconic design feature of the hotel, the high ceiling and free-flowing space allows a breeze to circulate in the vast reception, which overlooks the lagoon of the Kalu Ganga Estuary, creating an expansive sense of freedom on arrival.
Guests arrive at a central courtyard and pass through the east-west wing of the wall to the vast soaring roof of the reception lounge. MICD interior designer, Roshan Rajapaksha’s creative nod to Sri Lankan design is depicted in the large Batik wall hangings behind the reception area and set the tone for the colours of the space.
Polished cement floors and terracotta coloured walls with colonial inspired Sri Lankan furniture complete the picture. The reception chandelier is made from galvanised powder coated steel, and is inspired by the torches carried during the Kandy Perahara. This design inspiration applies to the cast aluminum torch lamps found elsewhere around the resort, such as the all-day dining restaurant Olu, which also features a splendid mural that is the creation of the renowned artist and architect Adil Writer.
The “wall” extends east to connect with two blocks of Lagoon View Rooms. These rooms all look across the calm surface of the lagoon to the thickly vegetated home gardens across the water to the east or over the pool terrace to the river mouth to the north.
A walkway connects over the Public road to the sea facing rooms and Acquolina, the Italian restaurant, complete with beachside pool, and also allows access to the walled Villas with private pools.
To the north of the complex a walled spa surrounded by a lotus pond takes guests to a world of sybaritic indulgence. Treatment rooms are accessed through thickly planted courtyards centered on a large pool court with relaxation pavilions inspired by traditional Ambalamas or wayside resting places seen in and around Sri Lanka.
Anantara Spa’s temple ceiling panels depict the magnificent mural paintings on the ceilings in the Dambulla and Mulkirigala rock cave temples and treatment rooms feature batiks, also from Aluwihare Cooperative.
A trio of buildings, to the north of the spa, their design inspired by the traditional preaching halls in Buddhist temples, offer a children’s play area, a gym and watersports centre and Spice Traders, an Asian restaurant with an outdoor Sala overlooking the estuary and lagoon.
The interior design throughout the complex is mostly inspired by Sri Lankan Colonial style with furniture being either copied from traditional pieces or inspired by them. Bawa’s very particular style lives on in the library where many pieces either designed by or used by him are put together to create a particularly “Bawa style” interior and displays drawings from his archive and some of his favorite designs in Batik done by his friends Ena de Silva and the textile designer Barbara Sansoni.
The interiors of the 141 luxury rooms, suites and pool villas have been designed by DDN Architect, Dipika Dharmadasa. The hues, textures and soft furnishings honour Anantara’s essence of natural, comfortable luxury and cultural authenticity in all of the
Ornately separating the bathroom and bedroom in the Ocean View and Lagoon View rooms, a sliding panel is crafted from Sri Lankan teak, with the lotus design taken from ancient motifs at the Embekke Devalaya temple, built in the Gampola era of Sri Lanka by King Vikramabahu III. Bathrooms pay tribute to the island’s precious lotuses in a variety of timber carving artworks, including carvings with a motif deriving from a temple in Ambalangoda. Hand-drawn by a local artist, intricate black and white line drawings depict the lotus seed in the Anantara Suite, and the ‘queen of fruit’ the mangosteen in the One Bedroom Villas. In Lagoon View rooms and villas, bed throws are batik fabrics with a distinctive crackle design.
Anantara Kalutara is in many ways a final completion of a Geoffrey Bawa project, albeit with the magical touch of one of his protégées. It does however bring to light another one of his brilliant architectural ideas. Bawa was not just repeating a style he was familiar with, he was exploring architectural space both from an aesthetic and functional perspective. Like all good architecture, every function is embedded with an aesthetic intent and of all his hotel buildings, this is graphically displayed at Anantara Kalutara Resort.