Sleeper magazine article
TRI, GALLE, SRI LANKA
Guided by nature, hotelier Rob Drummond and architect Raefer Wallis have created a sustainable luxury resort sensitively built into a tropical plantation on Sri Lanka’s largest natural lake.
Words: Juliet Kinsman | Photography: Courtesy of Tri
It’s as though the six green, leafy acres by Lake Koggala were was there. Yes, we built these buildings, but we didn’t remove trees put here specifically for Rob Drummond’s luxury eco-conscious hotel project. The plot forms a natural plateau with the sprawling branches of a centuries-old banyan tree worn as its crown, with three-quarters of the grounds surrounded by a dramatic stretch of water. “I wanted to bring the whole site into play,” says Drummond on a tour of the property, which has been a long time in the making.
Tri may be Drummond’s magnum opus, but it wasn’t always going to be a hotel. For a while, he toyed with building his own private four- or five-bedroom house on the site. It was while exploring ideas with Shanghai-based A00 that Drummond and architect Raefer Wallis – a trailblazer in sustainable design – hatched a grander plan.
“It is extremely difficult to be able to get a lovely piece of land and build something beautiful within the regulations of that country,” says Drummond. “I have had the land for 12 years and see the hotel as a vehicle to bring other people here so that they can enjoy the natural beauty.”
The Sri Lanka-based British photographer was introduced to Wallis by a builder friend who recognised Drummond’s appreciation for contemporary architecture, renewability and sustainability. “The build had to tread lightly, and that is what A00 does. They were a suitable fit and Raefer also loved the landscape,” he explains. “We always referred to it together as a landscape project, preserving what and we always regarded it as something to preserve the environment and enhance the locale.”
The land’s natural spiral shape conjures the mathematical Fibonacci sequence and this was the logical inspiration to guide the hotel’s layout. A whorl of geometric ingenuity, it mirrors nature’s ubiquitous Golden Ratio. 11 unique suites ranging in size from 60- 140m2 spiral around the hill, emanating from a central water tower that captures 360-degree views. The cinnamon-clad structure – which also houses three elevated suites – was a requirement for adequate water pressure throughout the site, but also demonstrates how the essentials have been fashioned into something with character.
A fan of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Drummond always wanted modular buildings. John Lautner, too, was an inspiration – the architect behind the ultimate villas fit for a Bond villain, and Sheats Goldstein Residence, the futuristic house that features in The Big Lebowski. As paramount as form was function. Living walls, green roofs and solar panels, as well as recycled woods and local materials are just some of the features that showcase Tri’s sustainability. The use of cinnamon bark – a by-product of the local spice trade – is also prominent. It is used in various ways from characterising the exteriors of the buildings to regulating room temperature and nodding towards the plantations of the surrounding landscape.
There’s nothing traditional about Tri, especially in the context of Sri Lanka. Arrival for this reviewer delivered a unique ta-da! effect (and certainly beat rattling along the bumpy dirt path, which is the alternative terra firma option). We were collected in a locally-made dhoni and steered here by a smart-shirted sarong-wearing Douglas, an esteemed member of the Tri family – or rather Drummond, now fluent in Sinhala, is now part of his family who were the original residents on this land. We glided across the lake past lone fisherman and slowly, the contemporary glass and pale-wood constructions appeared, so discreetly are they set into their lush green plot of land. All 11 guestrooms are essentially hidden from above and below, so gazing out at the water and reflecting from your private space is not only assured but a part of the appeal. No other buildings or in fact, traces of human life – let alone tourism – are visible on the green uninhabited islands in the lake. It’s truly a tropical retreat.
There’s no conventional reception area or big main building. We popped up by what we would soon learn is the main social space, next to a show-stopping infinity pool that juts out over the lake. This open- air lounge with wide sunbathing terraces and cushion-filled cubbies is where folks are only too delighted to flop for lazy afternoons. You wonder whether you’re missing something – where’s the big main building? This is Tri’s charm. It is low key and unfussy. It’s impossible to twig that right beneath is the destination restaurant for which imaginative meals are created using local ingredients to make the highest-quality Instagram-perfect dishes, all unfeasibly flavoursome for a menu that’s in fact very healthy.
The determination for the modern architecture to blend in and not impose on this untouched landscape is unmistakable. The clean lines and contemporary feel is a world away from Sri Lanka’s colonial- pastiche guesthouses and fancy five-star resorts. And it couldn’t be more different to where Drummond was living as his project was germinating; a charming but cramped 350-year old house in Galle Fort. He was here when the 2004 tsunami struck and, as a result, formed a strong bond with the place and its people, a connection and dedication that is palpable.
It is nature that is the headline act here, but without any gimmicks. A carbon-consulting company in Colombo helped with a biodiversity report in which 51 species of birds alone were identified as having been seen and heard here – chances are there are more. Their exotic song can be heard in each of the guestrooms, where bespoke casegoods from Lee Furniture in Colombo complement the timber frames of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Soft furnishings – from Tallentire House and Souk 58 – are also locally sourced while underfoot, a variety of natural and traditional floorcoverings include reclaimed jackwood boards and hand-selected granite paving.
There are desks that look out at the jungle-like sprawl – not because you are encouraged to work, but you may find you want time to be creative in a new way. This is also the part of the property where spa and yoga ensure you feel more mindful. Tri’s philosophy of balance and symmetry resonates in its airy treetop yoga shala, designed to float above the bamboo grove and provide a calming space for the physical and spiritual practice of Quantum Yoga, an approach developed by Tri’s co-founder Lara Baumann. Her classes are, for many, reason to head here. It’s a destination for mind, body and soul, but don’t think this is somewhere you’re encouraged to go without. As Baumann is quoted as saying: “Beautiful places are where the spirit comes alive. For some, that can mean dancing all night, for others it can be sitting meditation. I hope that we’ll have people doing both here.”