The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Sustainable luxury?

I’ve always been more than a little wary of the contradiction of putting the words ‘luxury resort’ and ‘sustainability’ together but recently I met up with the team behind the 12 Blues Resort & Spa in the Maldives. They claim that this is “destined to become one of the world’s most desirable six star resort residence developments” and that it “offers a rare opportunity to acquire ownership in an exclusive private island hideaway where warm crystal blue lagoons shimmer in hues of blue surrounded by impeccable powder white beaches unlike any place on earth”.

Designed by award winning Singapore based architectural firm Eco-id, 12 Blues is a 40 minute seaplane journey north of Male, the capital of Maldives. Built on a 10 acre teardrop shaped coral island, there will be 33 water villas – inspired by Moroccan lanterns floating on water – and seven beach villas.

The media information for 12 Blues points out that “while no one would claim that international air travel to the Maldives is environmentally benign; denying the local economy the benefits of carefully structured, environmentally and socially sustainable tourism would be a harsh sentence to inflict on the people of the Maldives”.

I’m not going to get into a debate about air travel, I write about building related sustainability. Instead, I’m going to point you in the direction of a paragraph from Heat – how can we stop the planet burning, George Monbiot’s thought provoking book: “We have all mastered the art of beginning and ending a narrative at the points which suit us, and we are never more adept at this than when we travel. A holiday – and therefore its environmental impact – we choose to believe, begins upon arrival and ends upon departure”. Think about it.

When I asked the team at 12 Blues about the environmental impact of the development itself, they spoke with rare passion and knowledge.

The project is hugely complex and is clearly bringing to bear construction techniques and systems that are unusual in this part of the world. The team claim they are doing their best to minimise environmental disruption during construction and no trees will be cut down, although some may be transplanted. The villa foundations are being piled while, to minimise waste, transport and local environmental impact, parts of the buildings are being made off site. A key constituent of the walls and floors is fibrecrete.

Everything has to be built from scratch. A desalinisation plant will provide over 120 gallons of water per person per day. Rainwater will be harvested, funnelled from the roofs of the buildings into tanks, and as much water as possible will be recycled. A sewerage plant is being constructed which will ensure water is cleansed to an acceptable level for use in irrigation, thus saving the need for desalination.

Diesel fuel is the main energy source but on the roofs solar thermal panels hidden by parapets will assist with hot water production. There will be no photovoltaics (PVs) because of the problem of salt sea mists and neither will there be wind turbines due to aesthetic considerations. Wherever possible LED lighting is to be employed.

Air conditioning is always a big issue in such developments. Here a central chilling system is to be installed – the services run out through the pontoons to the water villas – and it is being specified to minimise the noise normally associated with such systems.

Other than golf buggies, no motorised vehicles are to be allowed while the staff to maintain the resort will live on another island. They and most supplies (a herb and vegetable garden is to be created) will come in daily via a rota of supply boats which then remove rubbish that cannot be recycled.

Whether all this means that 12 Blues is an idyl with environmental attributes that truly extend beyond aesthetics and location should perhaps be judged by comparison with other resorts. There are many, many such places where sustainability is an unrecognised word.

Image credit: 12 Blues

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SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Materials testing

Materials testing

New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

Hidden London

Hidden London

Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading