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Republic of Dagestan, Russia
On a recent trip to Europe to meet with a group of investors for an uber-luxe residential resort in Vietnam, I called on my colleague John Goldwyn, in WATG's London office, and asked him to join me for the presentation. While my itinerary from Seattle included interesting opportunistic asides in London, Deauville, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Bruges, John's travel was significantly less complicated. He simply took a 40-minute flight from London City Airport to Schiphol International, followed by a quick cab ride. We had a quick lunch, caught up on our respective travels and projects, and then met our potential clients in the NH Jan Tabak hotel in Bussum (Netherlands).
John and I conveyed the special interest we had in this project and, more importantly, illustrated the relative ease with which WATG is able to leverage our international presence. Our business is in building relationships, and being able to truly put into practice our willingness and desire to integrate our services globally was rewarding. Sharing our passion for design excellence from two unique viewpoints emphasized the depth and breadth of WATG’s experience and enthusiasm.
John returned home to London after our enjoyable conversations with the client group and ended a day that was nearly shorter than if he had simply gone in to the office. I believe this sort of collaboration that taps into WATG's global expertise is one of the keys to continuing to provide our clients with the highest level of insight that is expected of an innovative and forward-thinking firm.
HN Jan Tabak Hotel Lobby
WATG's Honolulu office is in the midst of a very special partnership with a non-profit community organization, Te Taki Tokelau, Inc. Our role has been to take the first steps toward helping the group build or acquire a permanent community center and language school.
Tokelau is comprised of four coral atolls north of Samoa with a total land area of 3.9 square miles. While there are only about 10,000 Tokelauans in the world, about 1,000 live in Hawai'i. The majority of them are here because of their forcible removal in 1953. With no right of return to their homeland, the Tokelauan community in Hawai'i is committed to preserving its culture and language and needs a dedicated space for their operations.
Members of WATG's Honolulu office began by helping the community start to imagine exactly what was needed. Since most funders want to see what will be built before they award money, WATG was asked to produce initial concepts, rough building plans, and a sense of the architectural character.
While the designers at WATG are masters of creating projects that heighten the experience of a unique location, this process was different. Our challenge was to imagine a building that could transport people from an environment in Hawaii to a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific where life is wholly dependent on the ocean and reef networks and whose highest point is a mere 2 meters above sea level. In the islands of Tokelau the concepts of sustainability and community are not buzzwords; they are about survival.
We had 23 people donate their lunch hour for an in-house charrette. The schemes ranged from large-scale complexes to small, movable buildings (one even included a volcano).
Ten days after this first charrette, six WATG designers and their families spent a Saturday afternoon with the students, teachers, and elders of the Te Taki community. We were greeted with traditional song and dance and deep appreciation from the Tokelauan families. We ultimately ended up with three different schemes that used pieces from many of the initial charrette ideas: a smaller, easily-phased building; a bigger, more iconic building; and a more expansive and ambitious master plan should Te Taki encounter a larger piece of land available for community groups.
Over the next few weeks we will provide Te Taki with more refined options as well as some rough cost estimates provided by a local cost estimating firm that has donated its services. This will allow them to have an accurate starting point to begin looking at potential sites and funding. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a longer relationship and a way for us to give back to the broader Polynesian community whose home we share here in the middle of the Pacific. For those of us involved, the experience deepened our understanding of what Aloha truly is. Stay tuned for more updates as this process moves forward.
Group photo of Te Taki Tokelau and WATG after the second charrette.
For a guy who lives in Hawaii, heading into cooler climes in the winter has its perks, as I was able to dust off my beaver fur hat on a recent trip to China. I was traveling with Kevin Ho and Janice Li; and, as you can see behind me, the team can literally walk on water. We were in Guiyang presenting the Guizhou Golf Resort design package to our client group. The presentation was well received and thanks go out to the team members who could not travel with us. Guiyang is much farther South than Beijing, and the project is designed to be a second-home market catering to residents from Beijing and Shanghai. With mild winters and cool summers, it is destined to be a tremendous success. The project has four luxury hotels, numerous private villas, an entertainment complex, an Olympic training center, and 36-hole championship golf course.
Trey Frank in Beijing with the Guizhou Golf Resort project team.
So we're in St. Petersburg, Russia, working on the Chernomoritz Spa Hotel Resort in Sochi, Russia for the next winter Olympics in 2014. It's February. Let me fill you in on what that means exactly:
• Average temperatures of between -5° C and -10° C…
• Ice and snow—everywhere...
• The main front door and windows at the local architects offices freeze shut from time to time...
• The Neva River (which is about 3 times the width of the Thames in London) resembles a large ice rink…
• Frostbitten fingers (OK, turns out they were just really cold). South Africa definitely wasn't the best breeding ground for these temperatures.
Seriously, this place does not take prisoners-the average London winter wardrobe doesn't quite cut it outside of the office or hotel.
Week 1 was all about acclimatisation...
Every morning started with a full spread for breakfast-excellent. This was followed by a quick walk to the office; luckily, the hotel was right around the corner from the offices we were stationed at (thank you, admin staff). The hours were quite long but nothing outside the realm of normality for an architect. We got some quality work done and the project seemed to be under control (well, as much as a bull rider believes he is controlling the bull). We flew into the first weekend and, armed with my European Cities Guide Book (thank you, Angela Wareham, London Interiors), I headed off to the main site in St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage or Winter Palace. It is absolutely beautiful, and if you get a chance one day, you really should try to see it. The urban planning of St. Petersburg ties in so closely with the palace's planning, so it really is a pleasure to experience. The interiors are also quite a sight.
Week 2 flew by in a matter of heart beats. Two of my bosses flew down for meetings, and it was great to spend some time conversing solely in English. Before I knew it, it was the weekend again and, after finally realising that all the other people wearing jeans actually had thermals on underneath, we were off to the market. One of the local architects (Kirill Spirin, who is working hard on his English) took my colleague Diana Osman and me to see a few hidden gems. The first stop was the Russian military surplus store. What a perfect guy shop! Not sure if Diana will agree, but this was a highlight (I am still regretting not investing in a pair of night vision goggles). After that, we went to a lovely little cafe for lunch and then to the local market to buy the necessary winter wears. Towards evening it was definitely close to -20° C.
Week 3: Armed with my new and improved wardrobe, the temperatures this week aren't so bad. The first deadline is this Friday, so work is cranking up a notch, which is still enjoyable. It feels good to be performing such an integral role in such a high profile project. The queries are flying and I must thank the entire Sochi team back in London for their sterling work. The feedback has been fast and furious—you can really feel the presence of the large team back home as they exercise their full intellectual muscle.
So our return flights are booked and we have just a few days left here in St. Petersburg. It's been a steep learning curve and an amazing experience, so thank you WATG for this wonderful opportunity.
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