Koh Kong, a peninsula in the Gulf of Thailand and part of Cambodia’s 450-kilometre coastline, features a number of closely interrelated ecosystems. Expansive mangrove forests carve out small islands, waterways, and ecologically diverse estuaries along the coast, creating a vital and fragile ecosystem which local communities rely on for their livelihoods. In recent decades, economic development in the country, characterized by widespread natural resource exploitation, has devastated Koh Kong’s wildlife and has marginalized local communities from the forests, fisheries, and arable areas which they need to live and thrive.
Koh Kong Mangrove Lodging provides an alternative model of development, one that is rooted in the preservation of Koh Kong’s natural resources and promotion of community resilience. Perched on white sandy beaches, thatch lodges combine traditional piling techniques used in surrounding floating villages with a minimalist open-air design to create an elevated vantage point for local communities and travellers to enjoy Koh Kong’s clear blue waters and coastal breeze. Oriented along the main ocean-land wind direction to maximize airflow, the interior of the structure remains cool and ventilated during the hot season. Protected by a grove of trees, a central radial structure connects the lodges to a sand pathway.
Tropical rainfalls and changing tides result in an ever-shifting beach topography necessitating the use of flexible and durable building materials. An extensive palette of locally sourced natural materials including betel nut palm (Areca Catechu), a slender single palm tree widely cultivated in Asia, and giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus Asper), were chosen for the main structure. While widely available, these fast-growing, renewable materials are rarely used in the region for permanent structures.
Simple geometries were selected for the lodges to provide more opportunities for experimentation during the construction process. The use of a saltwater immersion treatment was needed to preserve and protect the bamboo. Workshops were held with the local construction teams to test out building solutions using different treatments, material connections, and finishes tailored for the topography and conditions of each lodge. The sustainable techniques garnered during this process have continued to be used by local communities, providing fortification against environmental degradation and resource exploitation in the future. This sustainable community-driven approach is at the heart of our design process.
Our localized design solutions respect and respond to the environmental and social contexts where we work. In Koh Kong, we worked closely with local communities who are still overcoming the impacts of devastating environmental degradation from unsustainable development practices. To ensure the meaningful inclusion of community needs throughout the project, local fisherman and construction workers were engaged in the design process from the beginning to exchange knowledge on locally available building materials and low impact, culturally appropriate construction techniques. Through this localised approach, Estudio Cavernas was able to sustainably build a space where local communities can enjoy Koh Kong’s diverse ecosystems which will continue to flourish.