Atoll: Origin of Species

Wikipedia Definition: The word ‘Atoll’ comes from the Dhivehi (an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Maldives) word atholhu. Its first recorded use in English was in 1625. However, the term was popularised by Charles Darwin, who described atolls as a subset in a special class of islands, the unique property of which is the presence of an organic reef.

The origins of the evolution from a more traditionally named architects practice called Ian Banks Associates into a new form of architecture + art collaborative called Atoll, was made over 12 years ago in January 2005. The new name was created at the launch of the new hybrid studio after completion of a 4-year sabatical at Arts Council England NW as their Public Art & Architecture Officer. It was was done partly in alluding to an occasional Maldivian focus in the company’s recurring work, but more importantly, in recognition of the growing importance of increased artistic, creative and holistic collaborations in new sustainable urban design and place-making. Ian Banks is anyway inextricably linked to Maldives, having lived and practiced as an architect there for two spells totaling 4 years, between 1986 and 1992. He is also married to a Maldivian and also registered as a Maldivian Citizen. The Maldivian dhivehi language is spoken by no more than 300,000 people world-wide, and the term atoll  is the only Dhivehi derived word that has ever made it into common English usage –  via an esteemed lineage back to Charles Darwen and his seminal work Origin of Species.

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Above: Outline proposal designs prepared for Hodaafushi Golf & Island Resort, Maldives for Voyages Maldives: 2004

The slow growth of diverse coral communities onto extinct volcano rims helps form the structure of atolls (and hence eventually the islands, and supported life-forms upon these). The myriad of diverse organisms making up such reefs, then provide the critical building-blocks, that can be seen as a metaphor for both the continual potential and the peril associated with such fragile communities – ones that no matter how remote and microscopic, are inextricably linked to the industrialised world and its global concerns into all aspects of the term ‘sustainability’. As such, the name of Atoll was felt to be a fitting and evocative name to help symbolise a new collaborative and sustainable ambition for a new hybrid architecture + art studio.

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Above: Sustainable Tourist Island concept model: Lakshadweep Islands, India for Jetan Travel Service: 1991