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The Lotus Hotel: A cautionary tale of architecture and abandonment

The Fysko Lotus Plaza is a mixed-use building in the Naafi area of Limassol, known for its distinct design as well as its deplorable condition resulting from decades of neglect. Its construction as the Lotus Hotel began in 1980 and was initially plagued by the withdrawal of the sole investor that prompted its sale and conversion to a shopping complex and apartments mid-construction. The building’s decline has made it a viable host to vandalism, drug use and squatting - a far cry from the luxurious city hotel envisioned for the area by the well-known local architect, and then mayor of Limassol, Fotis Colakides. The ground and basement levels, that were originally intended for the hotel’s communal areas, and later for commercial use, have become spaces that evoke terror and indignation to the community - their plight limiting the building’s appeal as a residence to low-income immigrants. In recent years, efforts to salvage the building have been thwarted by its unmanageable scale on account of multiple ownership. The abandonment of the Lotus Hotel is attributed to unpredictable circumstances highlighted in this essay, however, its struggle to materialize and failure to be utilized successfully, reveal the alarming implications of architecture that lacks resilience against the volatility of the market and the factors that contribute to it.

Fig. 1 The present state of the communal-turned-commercial areas of the Fysko Lotus Plaza, 2021. (Photo by Danai Zacharia)

The Lotus Hotel was built on two plots previously owned by wealthy landowner, businessman and philanthropist; Petros Tsiros. Tsiros was the owner of a large estate of land that encompassed the site and, in the absence of planning zones, he kept the area free from industrial buildings. Colakides was hired by Tsiros in the late 1960s, prior to his appointment as mayor, to design a modern neighbourhood for the estate with a community centre that occupied the site of the future Lotus Hotel. This included the Island Club, a family venue of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), which became a landmark that gave the area its name. Colakides’ 1967 proposal also included a hotel to accommodate the visitors of British families living in the neighbourhood.

Following the division of the island in 1974, and the occupation of two main tourism hubs of Famagusta and Kyrenia, the government-controlled areas were left with only 30% of the island’s hotel capacity. By 1978, tourism had peaked again with the help of government incentives, demonstrating the resilience of the tourism industry which became pivotal in the economic recovery of Cyprus. The two plots were jointly bought by a Kuwaiti investor in 1979, and Colakides (who co-owned one of the plots) was appointed as the architect of the Lotus Hotel which capitalized on the gained importance of the tourism industry. The hotel would now occupy the plot of the unrealized aforementioned hotel as well as that of the demolished Island Club; a considerable change in scale that was justified by the more diverse market of tourists choosing to travel to Cyprus, the larger hotel would cater for. The development and redevelopment of the site occurred within two decades, reflecting the rapid growth of postcolonial Limassol and the changing aspirations of the Republic brought about by the political upheaval of Cyprus.


Fig. 2 The proposed Lotus Hotel. Perspective drawing, 1980. (Image: Courtesy of Colakides and Associates)

At a time when most hotels in Limassol were located by the coast or in the historic centre, this location did not offer alluring natural surroundings such as that of the seaside or mountains, nor the charm of the old town’s architectural heritage. The height of the hotel, however, coupled with its distinctive oval shape, offered distant views of the mountains and sea due to the relatively low-rise development of the town and its altitude. The hotel rooms, arranged in an oval around a central sky-lit atrium, were divided across eight levels of planted balconies that overlooked the ground level. Attention was paid to developing an interesting interior, decorated with fixtures, fittings and furniture imported from India and featuring an Indian themed restaurant. This was done in the interest of the state-run India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), as the Lotus was one of several overseas ventures through which the ITDC promoted the Indian culture overseas. This was aided by the involvement of the Indian architectural firm R. K. & Associates, which collaborated with the local architectural office of Colakides and Associates. The Ashok Group of the ITDC would manage the hotel alongside the local private company Lotus Hotels Ltd. and was hence dubbed a ‘Cypriot-Indian hotel’ in local press.


Fig. 3 A banner erected at the construction site (Image: Courtesy of Colakides and Associates)

By the 1980s, the Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) began shifting its focus towards improving the tourism product of Cyprus, attracting upscale tourists, and extending the tourism season. The concept for the Lotus Hotel was in line with all three of these goals, since its proximity to the business district made it ideal for conference tourism, and thus suitable for entertaining beyond the summer seasons. Despite its extravagant themed interior, the grandness of the Lotus was dampened prior to its completion by the regulations enforced by the CTO, that prevented it from being licensed as a 5-star hotel. This was mainly due to the extensive coverage of the plot by the building, as well as the absence of a mini-golf course, inadequate storage space and the positioning of the tennis court. The CTO worked against their own efforts to combat the issue of seasonality by implementing regulations that were one-dimensional, and when applied to a city-hotel concept, absurd. These regulations shortsightedly left no room for diversity among the tourism product. Nevertheless, the Lotus Hotel remained a significant project to Cyprus by providing employment to locals and cultivating international relationships (Fig. 3). This is evidenced by the uncommon ritual for a private commission; the unveiling of a commemorative plaque by the Minister of Trade and Industry to mark the commencement of construction. Likely due to its well-connected mayor architect, the ceremony was attended by the Limassol District Officer, Minister of Labour, General Manager of the CTO and the newly appointed chairman of the ITDC, as it was equally significant to its Indian counterparts who viewed their involvement as a symbol of their own international success.


Fig. 4 Adapted newspaper clipping from the travel magazine ‘Destination India,’ 1980. (Image by Danai Zacharia, Original source: Courtesy of Colakides and Associates)

Construction of the Lotus Hotel came to an abrupt halt in 1983 when the investor was forced to abandon the project due to the internal financial crisis of Kuwait that resulted in the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash. The sudden abandonment instigated rumours about the Kuwaiti investor having been deceived into believing that the plot was by the sea (even though the Lotus Hotel was located approximately 2.5km inland, the ITDC had misrepresented it as a beach resort in an Indian travel magazine) (Fig.4). The rumours, fueled by employees who were made redundant and left unpaid, as well as neighbours who opposed the project, only added to the building’s struggle for completion as it hindered its appeal to new investors.


Among many other hotels in Limassol at the time, the Lotus had applied for a casino license, which could have had a remedial role for the project’s predicament whilst also addressing the issue of seasonality. Five years later, however, the application was still pending, and the search for a new investor was ongoing. By this time, efforts to promote Cyprus as a destination for conference tourism were intensifying, and the prospect of adapting some of the communal areas of the hotel into conference spaces was also being considered. The unfinished building was eventually sold at auction to the contractor of the project; Fysko Contracting Ltd., who appointed a different architect to convert the hotel into a shopping mall and apartments, following a feasibility study indicating that this would be more profitable. The project experienced further misfortune when Fysko went bankrupt in the 1990s, leaving the ground level and mezzanine of Fysko Lotus Plaza mostly vacant, while most of the apartments had already been sold off.


Although over-dependence on external funds proved to be the catalyst of the project’s undoing, its downfall was perpetuated by its departure from single ownership. These forces were enough to eclipse the network of international, well-connected and wealthy actors who had a vested interest in the project’s success. This phenomenon is particularly concerning given the alarming number of residential, high-rise buildings currently under construction in Limassol without a clear plan for populating them. This threat is more conceivable than ever given the demise of the Cyprus Investment Programme, which was exposed by Al Jazeera in 2020 for selling ‘golden passports,’[1][2] since many such projects relied on it for finance. Although the programme is currently suspended, new towers are sprouting up day by day while property prices remain unaffordable to the majority of locals, giving caution to the possibility that they may face a similar fate to that of the Lotus Hotel if they are unable to secure inhabitants and maintenance.


I would like to thank Colakides & Associates for kindly providing access to their archives.

 

End Notes


[1] Kwai, Isabella. 2020. "Cyprus Ends ‘Golden Passport’ Program After Corruption Accusations." The New York Times, October 15.

[2] Peel, Michael, and Kerin Hope. 2020. "Cyprus to suspend ‘golden passport’ scheme for wealthy foreigners." The Financial Times, October 13.

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