Reda Amalou, designer of the Six Senses Con Dao hotel and partner at French design firm AW2, does not want his latest project in Vietnam to stand out. Rather, his goal when designing the 50 villa resort was to make it ‘disappear’ into its natural surroundings.
Famous for its prison built during the French colonial rule, Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands located 230km south of Ho Chi Minh City, an hour’s flight away. More than 80% of the islands are protected national parks, making the Six Senses resort “quite unique, quite special,” said Amalou.
“You have to respect such a place,” he said of the island’s mountains, mangroves, beaches, coral reefs, forests and river. “We had to blend in to the landscape and become one with it; we had to disappear.”
The firm’s previous experience in designing the all villa resort of Nam Hai on Vietnam’s Hoi An beach established its reputation for luxury resorts in the Vietnamese market. Rather than concentrate on design specifics, the Six Senses brief reflected the operator’s commitment to give guests a unique experience when visiting the resort.
“The brief was fairly loose to start with,” said Amalou. “Most of the items, like the restaurant and bungalows, were already there, but we had to try to make use of the site in the best possible way, and then give people a nature-friendly experience while retaining the highest level of luxury.”
In keeping with Six Senses’ global commitment to developing environmentally friendly properties, the design of the Con Dao resort was inspired by the richness of the island’s scenery and natural surrounds. “The main characteristic of the brand is that people enjoy a healthy, natural and luxurious experience,” he added. To capture this, AW2 planned the resort to be “very much in contact with nature at all times,” he said.
“The rooms are designed so you’re always in contact with the sea or the mountains, wherever you are in the room – in the bath, in bed, or in the living room. There’s a very strong, almost in-your-face contact with the sea and the mountains.”
After “a lot of back and forth” coordination with both Six Senses and site owner, Indochina Land, the final plans for the resort, including Robinson Crusoe-type beach huts and a central marketplace, were set.
“There were difficulties linked to the design process,” said Amalou. “It was long because we we had to find the right design.”
Not content with designing the standard palm leaf roofed huts typical of many beach resorts, Amalou aimed to introduce a more modern feel to the buildings. “Most of the resorts you see today which want to be eco-friendly have a fairly traditional approach to design,” he said.
“What we wanted to do was redefine this experience as something more contemporary, and a little more urban than what the others were doing.”
To give his clients a stronger visual notion of his plans, Amalou designed and built the first suite of the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Everyone had to confer that this was the right design, and once it was approved, we moved on to finish the rest of the design. That all took a bit of time.”
While serving as a selling point for guests, Con Dao’s remote location proved the source of many construction difficulties.