Origin of Atoll

Wikipedia Definition: The word ‘atoll’ originates from the Dhivehi (an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Maldives) word ‘atholhu’. Its first recorded use in English was in 1625. The term was popularised by Charles Darwin, in his Origin of Species, and described an “atoll” as a subset in a special class of island surrounded by coral reef(s).

Above: Brain Coral, aerial photo of ‘The Eye of the Maldive Islands’ by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and outline proposal designs prepared by Ian Banks for Hodaafushi Golf & Island Resort, Maldives for Voyages Maldives: 2004

The evolution from a more traditionally named architecture firm previously called Ian Banks Associates into a collective architecture + art collaborative called Atoll, was made over 17 years ago in January 2005. The name was changed to launch a more hybrid form of practice, following a 4-year sabatical at Arts Council England acting as their NW Public Art & Architecture Officer. The name partly alludes to the occasional Maldivian focus of recurring work, but more importantly, in recognition of the growth of more artistic, holistic collaborative work in sustainable regeneration and place-making. Ian Banks is anyway inextricably linked to Maldives, having lived and practiced as an architect there for two spells totalling 4 years, between 1986 and 1992. He is also married to a Maldivian and a registered Maldivian Citizen. The Maldivian Dhivehi language is spoken by no more than 340,000 native-speakers world-wide (c. 2012), and the term atoll  is the country’s only Dhivehi word that has made it into common English usage.

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

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 about all aspects of what is true ‘sustainability’. As such, the name of Atoll was felt to be a fitting and evocative name to help symbolise the sustainable ambition for this new architecture + art collaborative.

There is no universally agreed definition on what sustainable development means, but Atoll’s own interpretation is kept deliberately broad to embrace both traditional environmental concerns, as well as other more enhanced cultural considerations – such as diversity and our personal right to ‘culture‘. For example:

The 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”; whilst Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”.

Categories: Architecture

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