Soneva Kiri's Tree-Top Den a Bamboo Marvel by Architect Olav Bruin

The perfect family resort is sometimes marred by just a little too much activity from the kids. At Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, Thailand, Olav Bruin has brought a fantasy to life for the children and a big smile to the faces of their relaxed parents. By Jeremy Torr

Bamboo shingles give a great 'rugged' look to the exterior roofs

Koh Kood, Thailand. 21 April 2011.Resort operator Six Senses is a great believer in stimulating children through educational, fun experiences. Which means that when parents arrive at Soneva Kiri for some top quality food, spas, excursions and a little relaxation they can enjoy them to the full without the kiddies bugging them too much - thanks to an innovative new den specially designed and built by Dutch architect Olav Bruin.

The Den, a bamboo-framed suspended structure, is reserved expressly for the use of younger Soneva Kiri guests. It is built in the shape of a gigantic manta ray hovering amongst the tree tops, complete with a cavernous belly area full of Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.

Bruin was identified as the man to create this “ray” of hope for rest-seeking parents. He had already built a summerhouse in Sweden, which pressed all the right eco-buttons, and had recently completed an eco-resort in Suriname. He was also working on a London conversion in which materials and textures were highly important to the outcome. So the Soneva Kiri management knew he was exactly the man for the job of making the ultimate eco-den.

Eco friendly construction

The giant manta ray-shaped structure measures some 30 metres by 30 metres. As big inside as out, it contains space for an Art Room, Music Room, Fashion Room, and a Library with a catamaran-style netting floor covered with cushions. Windows in the floor peek down to the forest floor below. The final flourish is the entrance, which features a real drawbridge that leads up into the ray, creating a feeling of excitement and anticipation as the children arrive.

The bamboo for the main elements was sourced locally, near the town of Trat. Although the bamboo grew to impressive lengths it was still not long enough for Bruin’s design, so a system for joining 'poles' had to be invented, using dowels lashed with ropes. This turned out to be both durable and organic, fulfilling Bruin’s brief on both counts. 

The entire structure hovers over the forest floor, just like a real sting ray over the ocean floor

The next task was to figure out how to mould the bamboo into the precise shapes needed without putting too much stress on the framework. To do so, Bruin and his team built an on-site steam oven and consulted bamboo construction experts from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. They advised the use of steel grids to aid the bending process but even so, the work needed up to 15 people at a time on-site, just bending bamboo.

Next came the 'skin' of the structure. After testing many materials, bamboo shingles provided the ideal solution. Shingles had been used successfully for the undulating roof at the Gourmet Cellar at Soneva Gili and in other projects, so Bruin knew it would weather well and provide an organic feel to his vast tree-top creature.  

Inside story

The interior was the next challenge, as the central space needed to be broken into different “experience” areas. Together with Six Senses founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, Bruin decided on four dedicated rooms within the free-flowing auditorium. Each has its own distinctive style and boasts natural finishes such as river red gum and rattan, cloth with resin-adhered soil, or textures derived from bamboo sawdust.

Once the children have entered the belly of the ray, they are discreetly supervised by staff who know how to make fun educational, and education fun. The children learn how to play music, draw or design clothes as in many other resorts, but here they also have their social and environmental responsibilities explained to them as they learn/play. As part of this, mobiles and bracelets are made from recycled magazine paper, and children are encouraged to learn a few words of local Thai.

Inside the Den is a fantasy world with as much play potential as almost any child can cope with!

An awareness of local culture and values is also important in the Den’s ethos, so the Music Room is filled with traditional Thai instruments. These are just part of the Six Senses philosophy of responsibility to the environment and to the community.

At the Den, even if the kiddies get tired of playing in the tree-tops, there are many other things to do away from the big bamboo ray. Kayaking, snorkeling, stargazing and nature walks are all on offer, and the spa offers specialist junior treatments too.

If that isn’t enough, there's also one of the finest beaches in Thailand on which to build good old-fashioned sandcastles. But our guess is the Mighty Manta will still get the most visits from the younger visitors.

Photos courtesy SixSenses

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