Many would recognise Mauroof (Mai) Jameel as one of the minds behind Hulhumale’ and the co-author of a beloved book ‘Coral Stone Mosques of the Maldives’. In this interview, we touch on his views on the interpretation and preservation of tradition in contemporary resort designs. We also have a chat about his forthcoming book on resort architecture, the preservation of architectural heritage, the potential for conflict between development, community and environment, and more in this edition of Conversation.
Hotel Insider: In your new book ‘Maldivian Resort Architecture’, you talk about our fast-disappearing architectural heritage. This is the price of modernisation, or maybe a particular view of modernisation. What role do you see resorts playing in preserving such heritage?
Mauroof Jameel: It’s partly because of modernisation. The other factor is our culture – we have one that easily discards the old and embraces new ways and things very readily. Also, tourism is a double-edged sword. Certain traditions get revived because of tourism – an example would be our small-scale industry of coconut thatching. Tourism did resuscitate quite a lot of cultural heritage, but we can’t expect this to remain the case. Already, resorts are embracing fake thatch, for instance.
Hotel Insider: I also wanted to talk about your resort designs, which seem very much inspired by our culture and traditions.
Mauroof Jameel: Thank you. When I did Ari Beach Resort in the 90s and wanted to design bungalows on the beach, I found out that the first traditional structures on our island beaches were the boathouses. So, I made these A-frame structures that paid homage to those native structures.
From then on, I thought about how to interpret our maritime culture in my designs, especially on water bungalows. Our culture goes beyond lacquer objects or coral-stone carvings. We have a four-thousand-year-old history. And I thought our maritime culture is actually one that should get more recognition because we are a maritime civilisation. We have all its elements – our own calendars, way of living, literary forms like raivaru and bandhi, even our food, these are all related to our maritime culture. So, I was very interested in interpreting this from an architectural perspective and incorporating it into my designs.
Hotel Insider: Tradition and luxury sometimes go hand in hand – your designs, Sappe’s (Mohamed Shafeeg’s) and Sonu’s (Shivdasani) fall into this camp. Do you see this marriage of tradition with luxury continuing?
Mauroof Jameel: Sappe’ has done it very successfully in many resorts, and of course Sonu in Soneva Fushi, and the architect Murad Ismail in Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. It’s an interpretation of our culture to suit the requirements of a luxury brand. I think luxury, tradition and culture can and need to co-exist, especially because of the modern traveller who is very much attuned to these things.
Hotel Insider: What would be a recent example of this?
Mauroof Jameel: Nautilus Maldives by Sappe is one. If we go back a little further there’s Soneva Fushi, and even Nika Island Resort.
Hotel Insider: Every resort development is a negotiation with the environment, with our desire for profit and safeguarding our ecology and community coming into conflict. Yet we’ve seen how tourism spurred environmental conservation in the Maldives. And the resorts are where most of the really ambitious ideas, like going fully solar for instance, take place first. What are your thoughts on this?
Mauroof Jameel: Every development doesn’t have to be in conflict with those elements, it just happens to be that way because of our attitude. I think resort developments can help reverse or bring back what we’re losing. For example, many resorts are making efforts of growing and conserving coral after bleaching events. Tourism does offer the opportunity to enhance our ecology and community, it’s just not happening in many instances because of our materialist attitudes.
Sustainability is the only way forward. We have to switch to renewables and we need to manage our waste properly. It is happening in many resorts but not enough.
Hotel Insider: We’ve seen how that can be possible – Soneva properties for instance, and also Six Senses, do a lot of their own recycling and sort their waste. There are models that can be implemented on the islands nearby and on a larger scale. Also, in the book you express your anxieties about environmental sustainability – that it’s not foregrounded enough, or perhaps it’s not part of the DNA at all in new developments.
Mauroof Jameel: The anxieties towards creating fake islands and selling fake nature to cater to an ever-growing global market is something worrying if you think of the future. I wonder how our islands can cater to the big geopolitical masses of China and India, the needs of their travellers – we’d be exhausting all our own resources trying to appease them. I think that is where the anxiety comes from – how far can we go on like this? We need to have some reserve of our natural resources for the future. And I think the next ten years of tourism development will be crucial to us in this respect.
Hotel Insider: And now we’re going to see the number of resort islands eclipse the number of inhabited ones. In a way that’s good because I think it means there are more islands focussed solely on generating economic surpluses.
Mauroof Jameel: I see it as a sign that we are heading towards overconsumption of our precious islands. That is why I think we need to save our resources for the future – keep as many of our islands protected. So, every time we think about developing a new island or a group of islands, we have to think about keeping our natural reserve as well.
Hotel Insider: Thank you very much Mai.