PortfolioThe Bentley Suite at the St. Regis New York
New York, New York, USA
Sherlock Holmes tiles in a London tube station. Taken during a trip to the London to visit the office and attend the annual Sleeper conference.
Photo by Robin Clewley
These boulders were a pleasant surprise during our site visit prior to participating in a design charrette in Ninh Thuan, Vietnam.
We’re designing a mountain resort close to one of Bulgaria’s ski resorts which will link into the future expansion of the ski area. Kirsty Rutherford and I traveled there to do a second master plan charrette and found the site in 4 inches of snow.
While on a research trip to Bali, we toured this meditative space, which was one of the private garden pools associated with the Tirta-Ening (Clear Water) Residential Villa at the COMO Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri, in the Ubud area of Bali, Indonesia.
Photo by Shannon Suess
WATG hosted a two day design charrette in Seattle to kick off the competition-winning Cheong Na golf resort project located in South Korea.
Refurbished pool at the Porto Elounda Spa (Six Senses) and hotel in Elounda, Crete.
Photo by Brigette Zechner
I was reminded of this fact of architectural-life while reading a feature in Fast Company on Yves Behar and his industrial design firm Fuseproject. Behar is becoming an industrial design rock star, winning the second most International Design Excellence Awards, behind only Ideo, over the last five years. The article touches on the relatively recent awakening of corporate America to the importance of design and their related struggles due to the amount of commitment top to bottom it involves. Architects inherently understand this, but Behar spends a lot of time convincing companies that sell a product that design matters and he's got the numbers to back it up:
A three-year study of more than 40 Fortune 500 companies by the research firm Peer Insight found that companies focused on customer-experience design outperformed the S&P 500 by a 10-to-1 margin from 2000 to 2005.
Additionally, Behar says, and any architect can tell you, good design isn't easy.
WATG continually works at producing the best design solutions it can for its clients. We understand that good design works hand in hand with the bottom line for both our clients and our company. Good design is hard work. It requires a willingness to take risks and test new ideas, to look for inspiration and new ways of working. Following from that, I found the “Seven Axioms of Yves” to be an excellent example of the sort of dialog we regularly have when assessing our own work.
1. "Design is how you treat your customers. If you treat them well from an environmental, emotional, and aesthetic standpoint, you're probably doing good design."
2. "Design must be integrated throughout the organization. Design-driven businesses foster creativity and innovation at their core and reward factions typically at odds (marketing and operations or engineering) for working together."
3. "Design is not a short-term fix. It's a long-term engagement that requires you to think about how design affects everything that touches the consumer--from product to packaging to marketing to retail to the take-home experience."
4. "As in marketing or operations, you must be willing to fail at the design level."
5. "Design must be driven from the top. CEOs in most industries today must have a true relationship with, and understanding of, the creative side of the business."
6. "With design, the solution to a problem will be different every time. Doing what your competitors are doing is not the answer. The connection to your customer has to be unique, not formulaic."
7. "Never ask the consumer about the future. You can ask them what their aspirations are, but you will not get an answer about what you should do. Design will bring those stories to life."
While working in the London office I had the chance to visit Amsterdam. Particularly memorable were the pulleys on the exterior facades for tranporting goods to the upper floors and the ubiquitous use of bicycles.
When I speak of life and death, it's the process I see among the Kanaka Maoli, or Native Hawaiians, that's shown in mourning for a beloved kupuna, or elder. In this case, it was the passing of Uncle Peter Park of the Big Island of Hawai'i, beloved Grandfather of Puna Kondo who had worked in WATG's Honolulu offices until a couple of years ago and, yes, while I call her my hanai, or adopted, daughter, she was also my mentor with the way she made me look outside the box to new wonders of design, color, texture and arrangement. And, I believe, much of that talent was not only inherited from her two wonderful parents, but, without a doubt, from her Grandfather, Uncle Peter.
Uncle Peter, to quote from his web site, was "an amazing and creative Kumu Lauhala (Lauhala Teacher). A living example of Hawaiian values, integrity, compassion, diplomacy, manners, humbleness, enthusiasm, wit and humor….a friend to all…" I had never met him or seen him until that Friday morning when, after taking an early flight over to Hawai'i Island and picking up my bud Kaleo who was, simultaneously, on an excursion with her Historic Hawai'i Department investigating an issue on the uncovering of Iwi (bones) of Kupuna (ancestors), we pulled our rental up to the Meeting House/Chapel of the Kailua/Kona Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Not being raised Mormon, I didn't know what to expect as we entered the viewing hall, which reminded me of the multi-use gymnasium of my old high school. We registered our names, deposited our cards (money being more appreciated than flowers in this tropical paradise) and crossed to the casket. There lay Uncle Peter looking to my eyes not unlike the mummy of the Great Ramses II, with his dark, taught skin, arched nose and still holding the smile on his lips he had become famous for in Kona. The auditorium filled up over the next couple hours with what must have been close to 500 people, and with what appeared to be at least one half of them wearing the most finely detailed one and two-toned lauhala hats of the most intricate, geometric designs. This was (one of) Uncle Peter's legacies, the perpetuation of true Hawaiian art and culture which he extended to his community and extended ohana through workshops, demonstrations and conferences. Now, he was also known for his story telling and knowledge of Hawaiian legends, his fish net making and teaching, the tools and hat blocks he created, the machines he developed to roll lauhala and his overall knowledge of the land.
A lone, elderly ukulele player was joined by a second, then a third and finally Kaleo, with her wonderfully sweet voice. The casket spray of awesome tropical flowers was added to over the next two hours by offerings of lei of all kinds that included what must have been a ten-foot length of aqua jade plant, the beautiful-smelling maile leaves of Big Island and a fistful of maile to place in Uncle’s hand. Often, I saw a loving hand sneak under the white veil to grasp the hands of this kupuna who had probably so often grabbed theirs. The outpouring of Aloha, mixed with the laughter of friends recalling Uncle’s incredible life, of children, of people eating an ono Hawaiian breakfast served at the back of the auditorium made this a celebration of one of their most revered kupuna. And the dress was everything you could imagine, from the elaborate white mu’u-mu’u of the Daughters of Hawai'i, to beach shorts, aloha shirts, blue jeans, jeweled slippers to beach slippahs. There was no pretention here, just the beauty of Hawaiians.
The service moved into the adjoining chapel where we waited for the family to have their final aloha with their beloved kupuna. Florists still dashed around placing new arrangements on the altar, the pianist, with her little daughter, started playing the old familiar Christian hymns of funerals and celebrations, the Mormon Elders started taking their seats. A small child teetered across the floor, up to the altar and the pianist until his Mother retrieved him, but for really no reason, he was a smile on the day’s tears. The back screen opened, and the casket was brought in by Uncle’s sons and grandsons, followed by the daughters, granddaughters and nieces carrying the lei which they now placed over the coffin. Hymns were sung to family and familial love. My bud Kaleo, sitting next to me, had to excuse herself, her eyes filling with tears, a long time friend of Uncle and his family, her own mother passing as we sat there, but this is where she had chosen to be, to represent her family, her ohana, in the other family’s time of need.
We all stood and started singing those beautiful words written by Queen Lili’u:
Ha’aheo ka ua i na pali
(Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs)
Ke nihi a’ela i ka nahele
(As it glided through the trees)
E hahai ana paha i ka liko
(Still following ever the bud)
Pua ‘ahihi lehua o uka
(The ‘ahihi lehua of the vale)
Aloha ‘oe, aloha ‘oe
(Farewell to you, farewell to you)
Some of us drove up the slopes of Hualalai, a volcanic eruption on the side of immense Mauna Kea, to the cemetery and final internment. Uncle was laid next to his beloved wife Anna Lee Sui, in a crypt overlooking his blue ocean, adorned with the fragrant lei from family and friends.
Puna drove with me to the pa'ina (celebration) on the beach held in an open-air pavilion, festooned with taped-up tropical flowers and a luau prepared by Uncle Peter's halau lauhala (lauhala school). Ukuleles played, guests danced hula, ono food was devoured, there was much laughter and much more aloha. Puna's Mom, at the end of the day with the sun setting and the ocean turning titanium, did her best to thank all for the unbelievable day with its outpouring of Aloha. She mentioned the importance of keeping alive Uncle Peter's work, and to always, ALWAYS, remember that they were Hawaiian and they held a responsibility to future generations to honor their Culture, their Arts and their Kupuna or they would be lost to the future. We all stood, holding hands raised in the air, and sang the beautiful Hawai'i Aloha. I don't wish to make this an advertisement for WATG, but this is exactly where we need to be: honoring the true culture of a people and their nation, honoring their art whether it be lauhala weaving, sculpting, painting, language, whatever, and most of all, honoring their stories, myths and legends. Somewhere in that joyous cosmology, we all come from the One, and stay part of the One. Our celebration of them is a celebration to our own existence. Our Kupuna are passing one by one. Let us remember them lest we be forgotten.
Aloha `oe, Uncle Peter, Aloha `oe. Until we meet again.
To read more of Uncle Peter Park and his amazing love for life, read "In his Own words…"
Once a month a group of designers from Irvine spend a lunch hour sketching in the sun. This is the entry to the Ford Premier Automotive Group Headquarters.
Sketch by Roger Gaspar