This past weekend, Jon Lee and I volunteered for the 2013 AIA Waikiki Walking Tour. We served as docents for the Bank of Hawaii Building and the Waikiki Business Plaza. We stood on Kalakaua Avenue on Saturday morning, shouted over traffic noise, and offered information about the two Waikiki landmarks. Nearly 300 people took part in the tour in 18 separate groups.
The Bank of Hawaii Building was designed by our founder George "Pete" Wimberly, and built in 1967. One of the design challenges was to integrate sustainable features with tropical and cultural elements. His solution was multipurpose interlacing arches. The arches were designed to evoke the ancient Hawaiian art and mimic the form of pineapples, which are also interpreted as rainbow and palm trees. The arch features also provide lateral bracing to the building facade and provide sunshade to the interior, reducing energy consumption for air conditioning. The Bank of Hawaii Building was also the location of the WATG office until 1997.
The Waikiki Business Plaza was designed by Edwin Bauer, and built in 1965. The most notable design feature is the revolving restaurant at the top of the building, revolving once-an-hour and providing panoramic views of the ocean, Diamond Head, and the Koolau mountain range.
This week, the US project teams are in Hong Kong for client meetings and are sharing space with the Hong Kong team in a tiny field office.
The WATG Hong Kong Team: Perry Brown, Tom Fo, Mark Kowalski, Allen Hung, Aaron Ho, Delbert Ragland,
WATG Irvine: Greg Villegas, Sharmila Tankha, Matt Page
WATG Honolulu: Harvey Maruya, Carlos Meyer, Tiffany Lee
Ron Van Pelt (WATG Singapore) and Margaret McMahon (Wimberly Interiors NYC) also graced us with their presence.
In all thirteen of us are sitting elblow to elbow in a tight, but comfortable work space.
"It takes thirteen to build a village." - Harvey Maruya
After nearly two years of waiting, the XiAn Terracotta hotel project is ready to start. The site is only a short five-minute walk from the famous Terracotta Warriors at the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The project's location will make it the closest hotel to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, creating the potential for three million visitors annually to have the opportunity to experience the hotel we are about to design.
From 11-15 November, we traveled to the site for a very intensive but fun design workshop. The charrette team members were Ardison Garcia, Carlos Meyer, Craig Takahata, and myself. Special thanks to Todd Nordstrom for providing research of the Qin dynasty and Emperor Qin Shihuang, as well as some conceptual ideas.
This is our client's first hotel development. One of our goals for our client is to differentiate the hotel from all other hotels in the region by applying a unique design approach and creating a bold statement, thus helping to set their hotel apart.
Our team's keyword for this project is "redefine." And the three keywords from our client are "culture," "history," and "modern."
If everything goes as well as our charrette, this will be an amazing project.
It's no surprise when well-conceived architecture weathers the passage of time and through the course becomes weaved with the history of a place. Such is the case of the Peninsula Manila or as the locals fondly refer to as the Manila Pen.
On a recent trip to the Philippines, our Singapore BD Manager, Kai Seah, and I had an opportunity to visit the hotel and pay homage to the very first hotel project that WATG designed in the country.
I've only been to the hotel once before, long before I joined WATG. I only know this hotel from the stories of the man who designed it--Don Fairweather, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and was one of WATG's notable partners until he retired several years ago. As a young designer, I had the privilege to work and traveled with Don to far-flung places; it was those occasions when Don told and retold his fascinating experience and adventures in the Philippines in the 1970s during the design and construction of the Manila Pen.
After 36 years since its opening, the Pen's grand and spacious lobby hasn't failed to impress its guests. It epitomizes classic hotel lobby design--formal, elegant and exact; an impressive and large living room that is a prelude to the social and function spaces the hotel has to offer.
Throughout its history, the hotel has been host to exclusive, famous public and private social events. As recent as six years ago, it also unceremoniously became the setting for a military uprising; its grand lobby sacrilegiously turned into an armored tank parking lot. Such is the case of a hotel that has become an icon in the business center of the Philippines.
The exterior architecture, unfortunately, has seen better days. Its bush-hammered and exposed concrete aggregate façade have not been spared from the dirty metropolis air. But interestingly enough, an architect like me can easily squint his eyes and see the strong bones of a modernist architecture--clean, bold vertical elements contrasted with horizontal bands at the top floors. A sensitive and thorough re-façade may just be what it takes to bring this landmark building to the present.
Walking around the Pen, I find it fascinating and noteworthy that WATG has had a presence in the Philippines for quite a long time. And within those nearly 40 years, we have had wonderful built projects, great client relations, and the privilege and satisfaction of designing memorable places that lift the human spirit.
During a recent visit to Holland, I went by Steyger Island in Amsterdam and snapped some pictures. The "Venice of the North" has another water-immersed residential community. This is an experimental project, with real houses, really floating – not the usual inhabited boats, and no houses on stilts. It's also experimental because the "lots" are actually water instead of land, and all these water-lots are privately owned and managed (unique for this municipality).
In good old Amsterdam tradition, the properties and living spaces are tiny - a lot measures 10x15 meters, and the "footprint," if you can call it that, is only 7x10 meters. Even though Amsterdam is known as the "City on Stilts," the houses are on a floating concrete pontoon without any footing. The design guidelines stipulates that the volume should contain maximum 2.5 storeys - leading to another planning/architect cat-and-mouse classic.
Yes, 2.5 storeys on a floating pontoon actually makes perfect sense – where else is your P.O.S. going to go? And, the massing of the overall development is gorgeous, with all irregularly oriented half-storeys. Due to tidal movement, a house on stilts would be ugly, and impractical for people with leisure boats.
However, these requirements put the architects "on high stilts" (a Dutch expression meaning agitated / assertive). Since the house is floating, the asymmetry of the volumes makes the weight distribution uneven - therefore bringing the house out of balance. Height restrictions force the designers to sink the lowest floor all the way to the base level of the concrete pontoon, so there's no space to bring in a counterweight. As a result, people are always mucking about with sand bags or concrete blocks to get their residence water-pass.
Most houses are built up of wooden studwork to reduce weight, with free choice of finishing – except for highly corrosive metals like copper and zinc, which is out of the question to prevent polluting run-off to flow into the Y-waters.
The individual architectural expression of the houses within the tight confines of the design guidelines leads to a orderly, yet beautifully diverse and vivacious image. This is complemented by everlasting play of reflections from the water – as architect Jan Benthem, who built his own house there, explained: Living on the water means that the light comes from below. It was an unexpected delight seeing the water refractions on the walls and ceilings...it's a treat!
Welcome Shanghai. Another dot added to the growing map of cities I have had the opportunity of visiting. Arriving first thing in the morning I jumped into the taxi to meet colleagues based at a small boutique hotel called The Waterhouse on The Bund. 'You smoke?' shouted the driver over blearing 80's techo music as we hurtled down the highway. 'No, thanks' I replied. 'Taxi driver smoke!' he responded. It was not a question and a hint of what was to be the norm for the trip as I soon discovered.
We were in Shanghai to meet with the client and the city Architectural Review Board to discuss the elevational treatments for the MGM Bellagio Shanghai which is due to open in 2016. The site has already been prepared and piling has commenced on-site. Dave, Reena and I grabbed a quick snapshot in front the project billboard during the site visit before we were whisked off to Nanjing on the high speed bullet train. Another dot to add to the map.
Saturday morning and the MGM team had asked us to join them on a tour of hotels in Shanghai and this became one of the highlights of the trip. All in all we visited six different properties including:
• Hyatt on the Bund
• Fairmont Peace Hotel
• Waldorf Astoria
• Park Hyatt
• Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao tower
• The Ritz-Carlton, Pudong
Seeing the restored cage elevators in the Waldorf Astoria was wonderful to see and the hotel tour was suitably finished in the hotels Long Bar, which originally opened in 1911.
I recently traveled to Koh Samui, Thailand and couldn't resist the opportunity to visit three popular boutique hotels. Here's a review of the hotels I visited.
W Retreat Koh Samui:
73 Rooms, 19 residences
Almost 2 years old
Designed by Singapore based MAPS Design Studio
Interiors by P49, Thailand
True to W-style, the hotel is stylish with accents of Thailand in the materials used. It was quiet and honestly a bit empty for a hotel that targets the younger generation, perhaps due to seasonality. A W insider (that is what they call a their staff) was nice enough to show us around and answer our questions. He mentioned that most guests were happy with their stay although some preferred the resort be more family friendly.
Almost 2 years old
Lobby and common areas Architecture: Suchate Ingsudhum,
Landscaping : Pajitpong Pongsivapai
The open air interior design was by the Inside Out Design Company of Bangkok.
Hansar took me by surprise as a small, well-managed hotel. The interiors were modern but most elements were done with local materials such as bamboo and wood. The rooms all feature sea views and have an open toilet concept. The hotel only has one restaurant but it's good enough to satisfy any food critic. The pool is always seemed to be surrounded by guests and its location at the end of the Bo Phat beach makes it a convenient yet quiet location.
26 suite/studio cabins
Member of Design Hotels
Architecture and Interiors: Tirawan Songsawat.
As a member of Design Hotels, The Library is located on the busiest tourism stretch of beach in Koh Samui. Immediately upon entering, the minimalistic style of the hotel brings a sense of peace and calm. The rooms are organized by stacking one room on top of another. The feeling of the space is more residential than hotel due to the layout and the density. The "red" pool anchors the end towards the beach, together with its fitness, restaurant and recreation area, which looks a lot like an Apple store. The Library brings an interesting take on hotels to Koh Samui, but lacks a "sense of place" in general.BlogCatalog
A few weeks ago, Tiffany Lee and I participated in the Niu Valley Intermediate School's annual career day. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students attended two sessions that introduced them to possible career choices. Tiffany and I represented architecture and interior design.
During the first part of our session we discussed the roles of architects and designers. The second half was spent with an activity. Students were asked to create bubble diagrams of their dream house and present their ideas. A few students went beyond the assignment and developed floor plans with features such as: sunken living rooms, barrier walls, water slides and hidden passages. Here are a few photos from our day.
At the airport after another invigorating day in Shanghai. Yesterday I delighted in the underground market exploration, similar to night markets but all underground. I made many friends through long negotiations. It's interesting how you slowly get moved from one room into another secret chamber as secret walls suddenly pivot and open up to slimy alleyways scattered with garbage and scurrying rats, and then into yet another layer of secret rooms; it's a bit scary being a woman who's alone, but also an adventure to remember... in retrospect, a bit too adventurous.
It was a relief going to Peninsula Hotel's luxurious shopping arcade with well-dressed security guards everywhere, and best of all, it was so wonderfully chilled! Not quite in my budget, but very elegant… nobody except security guards around; how do these luxury retail stores stay in business? The High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula is elegant and sophisticated, but has no view of the Bund. It looked somewhat similar to the High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula Hong Kong in Kowloon, but lacked the ambiance and inhabitation of guests as it was empty both times I went there.
After, I took a cab to the Xintiandi area, which is filled with charming old brick buildings, narrow side alleys, a rich variety of restaurants and small stores flanked by large shopping center with new and upcoming Chinese fashion designers on level 1. Relaxing while sweltering in the sticky heat, but fulfilled by inhaling such a wonderful quaint ambiance, I could definitely imagine opening a satellite office there...
After checking out of Les Suite Oriente Hotel, I took a cab to my next hotel: the Waterhouse Hotel. I must admit this alternative unusual boutique hotel is a rather intriguing and a very different experience. The building is a former army warehouse which has been roughly renovated--patched concrete walls and floors, narrow winding concrete stairs and remnants of old tile overlaid with quotes of famous writers. It has only 19 rooms, all with some sort of peek-a-boo or exhibitionist effects: reflecting shutters and/or large windows between public areas and guest rooms. My room was extremely small, with large windows along the 2 sides. One large window was facing the courtyard with controlled views and open mirrored shutters to some guest rooms and public areas across the narrow courtyard; the other turned out to face directly into the neighboring guest room some 4 feet across a narrow void, and the void further connected a peak into the lounge bar one floor below. Fortunately, drapery could control the limit of exposure.
Dinner was served on a long communal table at the hotel restaurant Table No.1, a small but amazing restaurant serving the most delicious taste sensations I have had for years. The restaurant consisted of 3 small 2-person tables and 4 long communal tables for 12 guests each with vintage Scandinavian furniture. This place is all about family style (sharing dishes); unfortunately, I had nobody to share with, but each dish was such an amazing tantalizing taste and ingredient combination: pate with truffles, scallops and a tiny dollop of black bean/vinegar reduction as appetizer, a main dish of sea bass dripped with a soy sprinkle, topped with smoked oysters, and dessert of mixed fresh berries (yes, raspberries...) with a raspberry reduction and green tea/lemon/tarragon sorbet sprinkled with edible flowers. The meal was a visual delight, a sensory feast, to be remembered. Very small servings make each bite extra special, and people-watching/listening is quite intriguing when dining by yourself.
Heavenly satisfied, I ventured upstairs through a series of narrow, chipped old winding concrete stairs with peeks to some guestrooms to the roof terrace, which turned out to be a very romantic rooftop lounge: an amazing location with the skyline of Shanghai and the black river dotted with brightly lit tour boats as backdrop. Soft candle lighting just barely lighting the lounge, it took a while to adjust to the dark but satiated experience. Corten steel bar and sunken maze-like small lounge pockets interlaced with herbal gardens for the restaurant enhance the views and create intriguing layered experiences. No wonder the food tasted so fresh at table #1! The sky was softly hazy and steamy hot, which added to the sensual layer of mystery and drama. It would be such a romantic place to have a cocktail with someone special! I seemed a bit out of sync being there by myself… after mentally recording the special experience, I ventured back down to the lounge to peruse Shanghai lifestyle magazines and books, lounging alone in an eclectic mix of retro Scandinavian furniture from the sixties blended with some over scale eclectic, modern accessories, while my favorite Blue Bar music was playing.
This morning I ventured into Old Shanghai Street, which is a very crowded Chinese tourist area. The smell of incense from a couple of old temples next to the entrances layered the already hazy air. I spotted narrow, colorful alleys with all kinds of Chinese artifacts--a wonderful visual feast for the eyes. Holding tight to my purse zipper, I tried to photograph them, but it was difficult as it was too crowded and hazy. A zigzag bridge leading across a koi fish garden was a popular photo point but too crowded to try and explore. Hawkers try to lead you upstairs to their pearl and jade stores, and probably to more obscure places if you are looking for purses. Different massage places offer exotic treatments such as hot wax ear massage, glass cupping and a Japanese-style massage where they lightly beat you with bundles of bamboo sticks. Not enough time to explore these offerings… it's time to head back to the hotel prior to going to the airport. Next stop: Guangzhou… the Hengqinwan Hotel.
Shanghai opened my eyes to an intriguing city so rich in history, yet booming and vibrant. What a great opportunity to explore the world while designing resorts! I just wish I had someone special with me to share the experiences. Writing them down will help me remember the special moments and maybe share them with special friends and colleagues.
Wow, it has been hectic and exhausting, but also exhilarating! Shanghai is quite fascinating--now I understand why so many artists and writers moved here in the early 1920's. The Bund, the name of the river, has a stunning wide, elevated river walk with a spectacular view similar to Hong Kong on the Kowloon side but is so much more beautiful and engaging: full of people and families with their kids, even late at night. Beautiful buildings in Neoclassical or Art Deco style with 5-star hotels/high-end retail or government agencies flank the Bund on one side, while the other side has an amazing mixture of bustling high-rise buildings with animated lighting that are constantly trying to outdo each other.
On Tuesday we researched 12 hotels which would be competitors for our new hotel and then took the bullet train to Nanjing. Nanjing is said to be a beautiful city, but all we saw was a hotel and our client's high-tech office headquarters in a business park across from the hotel. The day was filled with multiple presentations before we headed back by train to Shanghai, with client meetings till 10:00pm. Just before midnight we checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, an old grand neoclassical hotel along the Bund. Such a treat, luxury can become so addicting.....sophisticated and stylish pampering. The old building used to be a gentlemen's club--a large new addition was designed in a more contemporary Neoclassical style.
This morning consisted of more hotel research in a charming area consisting of old Shanghai-style brick houses with narrow alley ways turned into chic restaurants and retail--so relaxing and different. Lunch at Shanghai Tang cafe: soy and chili marinated jellyfish with fungus as the appetizer--about as strange and exotic to taste as it sounds--chewy and spicy... We have a design workshop this afternoon with a client and are anxiously waiting for new ideas to finalize all vertical circulation and area locations. We need to resolve all circulation within a few days as the structural engineers are to complete DD drawings within 10 days and they are to start construction in two weeks. The concept design ideas were approved and it is exciting to move forward with this fashion-inspired boutique hotel mixing contemporary hip and cool interiors with a new Art Deco exterior along a narrower river Bund.
It's 10:30 PM, I just moved all my heavy luggage (not all clothing… mostly work samples!) to another hotel, Les Suites Oriente, along the Bund to continue the hotel research--much tighter accommodations, but the bath tub centered at the window overlooking an amazing angular view of the Bund with views to both sides of the river is a unique experience. The bath tub has a headrest but I'm not quite sure if I'm ready for the exposure. The toilet has a phenomenal view as well, yet there's no view from the bedroom; the interiors all have Scandinavian classics blended in as furniture.
Tomorrow is Saturday and I am so ready to relax, explore Xintiandi, a charming old Shanghai-style area, possibly delight in some retail therapy, sip tea at one of the cozy cafes, and explore a bustling underground market with all the designer wares imaginable while holding on tightly to my purse and negotiating with my limited Mandarin language skills. It all seems so fun, passionate and enduring. After, I'll check out of my loo with a view to explore in depth an eclectic boutique hotel named the Waterhouse that's also on the Bund, but in an area that's barely developed. The hotel is small--19 rooms only, and designed in an old warehouse setting, again, with Scandinavian furnishings..., reminds me of my Danish roots. The hotel has a fabulous cafe with the most tasteful morsels, but one night only and then off to Guangzhou for 2 days of coordination meetings and then a design workshop in Hangzhou, which should be a beautiful city built around a lake that emperors used to bring their concubines to cool off. I forgot to mention it is about 96 degrees with very high humidity; sweat is dripping from my forehead, a melting sensation satiating and layering the exotic experience.
Time to count some Z's.