The Triton Hotel was commissioned by hotel development firm Aitken Spence in 1979. Michael Mack, one of the directors of Aitken Spence, hired long-time friend and architect Geoffrey Bawa to design a 125-room beachfront hotel on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. Construction was completed on the project in 1981, and the hotel remains in operation today.
The Triton Hotel is located just west of the Colombo-Galle Highway in Ahungalla, approximately seventy kilometers south of Colombo. The main area of the side is a rectangular beachfront parcel stretching 300 meters wide parallel to the beach and 100 meters inland from the sand's edge. A smaller sliver of land connects the beachfront land to the Colombo-Galle Highway; this strip is 300 meters long and ranges between 15 and 50 meters wide. The longitudinal axis of the property and the main hotel building is aligned with the orientation of the coastline bordering the site. This axis is rotated thirty degrees counter-clockwise from the north-south meridian.
The long and narrow hotel snakes along the coastline parallel to the water's edge. The building is uniformly three stories tall throughout. The basic unit of the hotel is a sixteen-meter-wide single-loaded corridor, lined by guest rooms; while generally the building follows a linear path where a series of guest rooms runs parallel to the ocean, the hallways loop at points to form a handful of small square garden courtyards bordered by open air circulation spaces. The loops also create a larger order in which three major courtyard spaces are formed adjacent to the beach. The northern and southern courtyards are gardens adjacent to guest rooms, while the central courtyard is primarily occupied by the large hotel swimming pool. The pool is an irregularly shaped composition of rectangular parts that measures thirty-five meters wide at each of its extremes.
The swimming pool is part of an elegantly arranged axial sequence of spaces that leads the visitor from the eastern entry of the resort to the ocean at its western limit. The swimming pool is immediately to the west of the wall-less reception lobby, which in turn sits to the west of a large reflecting pool that borders the main entrance driveway. Bawa intentionally placed water, the reflective polished floors of the lobby, and then more water on the axis of the entry in order to create a continuity between the indoor and outdoor spaces of the hotel and the ocean visible beyond. The surfaces of the water and the lobby floors are at precisely the same level in order to emphasize this designed horizon. The effect is a dematerialization of the ground plane that draws the visitor visually through the building and to the ocean beyond from the earliest approach to the hotel.
The Triton Hotel features very clean and simple architectural detailing with little ornamentation. The concrete walls are painted a pale gold tone with white trim, columns, and ceilings. Interior spaces are light and airy, with either pale tiled floors or carpets in neutral tones. Planters in the open-air lobbies and hallways blur the lines between interior and exterior space. Throughout, the architectural palette is restrained in order to foreground the stunning views and landscape outside of the building.
While the Triton Hotel is quite simple in its design and detailing, it continues to have a powerful effect on visitors due to its clever spatial planning and understated sophistication. In this design, Bawa clearly begins to operate within the minimalism that characterizes his later works, in a departure from the vernacular style that is often associated with his early projects. However, in other ways Bawa continues to develop ideas long-explored in his practice, such as the memorable sequencing of spaces in order to highlight the natural beauty of the landscape.