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A number of years ago, two married couples purchased a plot of land in Sri Lanka with the dream of building a rental holiday home together. That the couples in question are made up of renowned architects explains how they created something as special as K House. Peter Eland of Copenhagen firm Norm Architects explains that he and his wife, Gabriela Lo, have been friends with AIM Architecture’s founders, Wendy Saunders and Vincent de Graaf, since they all worked together in Shanghai, where AIM is based. All had developed a love for Sri Lanka during their vacations there, so when Saunders and de Graaf approached Eland and Lo to go in on a joint venture, the personal became professional.

“Sri Lanka is an amazing country — there’s so much culture and a
great history of architecture, both in terms of the vernacular and the colonial influences of the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British, down through to the invention of the modern tropical style by Geoffrey Bawa,” says Eland. What could Norm and AIM contribute? “We wanted to create a space that bridges Northern European architecture with that more vernacular and modern tropical approach.”

In a nod to the rugged coastal setting, Norm and AIM eschewed an expected palette of ceramic tile and porcelain in favour of hardy teak and polished concrete.
As much a pragmatic choice as an aesthetic one, concrete walls and granite flooring are effectively weatherproof in the tropical climate.

Topped with recycled terracotta tile, K House actually consists of two concrete guest houses that gently step down into their footprints. To build the project, the firms connected with Crystal Construction, a local contractor whose knowledge of the region’s rugged coastal climate (in which stainless steel would rust and glass would be too cumbersome to maintain) informed the material palette of teak complemented by cement and terrazzo. Norm and AIM put these classic materials to unorthodox use, applying, for instance, a honed cement typically used for flooring to the buildings’ facades. 

This palette continues even into the bathrooms — a zone where one would expect it to segue into gleaming tile and porcelain. For Eland, the consistency was a no-brainer, but there was one preoccupation: “The biggest discussion we had about the bathrooms was how people would perceive the open-air experience.” In one of the guest houses, the bathroom’s concrete wall extends past the terracotta roofline and out to an enclosed courtyard. Here, guests are not totally exposed to nature but they are showering en plein air. The bathrooms’ materials — granite flooring and polished cement — only make sense, therefore, as waterproof options. “Overall, people like it,” Eland says, now that the property is open for bookings. “They find it interesting.”

As a whole, the project speaks to the firms’ adherence to a holistic approach. “Many times, we say that we work from the inside out, that the building and material palette have to be connected,” says Eland. “We work with few materials, but the way we juxtapose textures allows one to see the material for what it is: You need a little bit of roughness in order to appreciate the smoothness.” 

A Sri Lankan Retreat with a Nature-Inspired Bathroom Experience

Rugged materials inform a guest house in Sri Lanka and its alfresco bathroom designed by Norm Architects and AIM Architecture.

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