A bedroom partially immersed in water is just one of the features of Aquatica, a unique floating resort. Priyadershini S. has the details on this architectural experiment

Experiencing water at its thrilling best is one of the main attractions about a holiday in Kerala. Aquatica, a floating resort in Kumbalanghi, is designed to give the holidayer just that. Kochuthommen & Associates, the firm, which designed this one-of-a-kind resort, went into the project facing water as a hurdle to be crossed. “Out of the 30 acres of land for the resort, 29 were underwater!” recalls Kochuthommen Mathew, who relishes an architectural problem, like this. He with his six-member team decided to make water the USP. The water experience is the highlight of Aquatica.

Kumbalanghi, a pristine fisherman’s village on the outskirts of Kochi has a fragile eco-system. Any construction or change in landscape needs extremely sensitive treatment. Reclaiming land, in this case, was the most obvious solution but it would have severely impacted the natural landscape and had a direct bearing on dependent livelihoods. “Filling land from this water body would raise the level of water, it would hinder fish farming and pokkali (organic paddy) cultivation, which are the mainstay of the people of this area,” says Kochuthommen, who was against taking such a step. “Kerala is beautiful with large water bodies but faces the issue of less availability of land. As architects we have a responsibility, a role to play, and then a job to be done. In this case we were merely trying to solve a problem and came up with a design that creates a multi-layered function allowing the existing activities to carry on,” says the architect, who believes that a project should have a futuristic outlook of a minimum of 50 years. That, even after half a century, its design and context remains relevant to the prevalent socio-economic scenario.

That’s how the concept of a floating resort was arrived at. “Building on stilts, as done in touristy Bali, was a solution on a site like this but we came up with the idea of floating cottages,” says Kochuthommen who completed the first phase of the resort in December 2012.

Floating structures, as seen elsewhere, have watertight compartments below and a superstructure above. The uniqueness of this resort is that both watertight compartments and the superstructure are integrated into one. The architect describes this as unique and has applied for a patent.

Once the idea crystallised, the team realised that constructing such a structure would be a maiden venture. They had a choice of four materials to decide on - wood, steel, fibreglass and ferrocement. “We chose ferrocement because it is low on maintenance and a material that can be handled by local masons. It is economical, transportable but heavy,” says Kochuthommen, who approached Dr. Dileep Krishnan, professor at the Naval Architectural Departmnet, Cochin University of Science and Technology, to guide them. A structural engineer Abhilash Joy, who had worked with ferrocement earlier, was roped in as consultant. Sandith, a naval architect, too was brought on board, along with Tommy Joseph representing the client Poppys Hotel Pvt. Ltd. The team set to work.

A dry dock was made in Aroor and a sample cottage built with ferrocement. The trials took a year. The split level cottage design was inspired by the idea of giving the occupant the best experiences of water - from three levels - from a height, at water level and underwater. The high outdoor deck offers a fascinating view of the blue green expanse, the water level living room is at par with the horizon and the partially immersed bedroom is inspired by underwater photography of Danish photographer, David Doubilet. A curved thatch roof loops in the three levels.

Two adjacent cottages on a floating deck form a ‘flotill’. There are six such ‘flotills’ connected by a walkway on pontoons, which is integrated into the design. A floating reception area, a restaurant, a lounge and an infinity floating swimming pool are some of the other architectural wonders that are woven into the resort. The one acre land serves as kitchen, laundry, staff area and a newly laid out garden.

“The most utilitarian aspect of a floating unit is that it can be detached from the link and floated to another part of the lake,” says Kochuthhomen, who is the current secretary of Indian Institute of Architects, Cochin Centre. During the recent torrential downpours when water bodies overflowed and cause havoc, the resort just floated soaking in the rains.

Aquatica is set to go into its first season with 12 cottages with plush interiors. It affords as desired the best waterscape, natural beauty, quiet and peace and an architectural idea whose time seems to have come.

Futuristic design

Kochuthommen’s futuristic vision of floating units can be used by other clients when there is shortage of rooms during season. Most waterfront properties in Kerala could rent floating cottages during peak season. Off-season, these cottages can be parked elsewhere (owned by non-hoteliers). There can be parking charges that can be levied for the up keep of the resort and can provide jobs to locals. At a larger scale, floating cities could come up without hampering land or water activities.