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!
I recently had the honor of participating in a signing ceremony hosted by our client, Jingcheng Group for the Jingcheng Ruili Bay International Resort. George Berean and Trey Frank were also there to represent WATG.
The ceremony was attended by our client representatives, local government officials, and the media. The ceremony was featured on local news stations that evening.
We look forward to working with a great client on this exciting development. The resort will be in Ruili, Yunnan Province and will include a five-star hotel, villas, townhouses, and spa. Ruili is located in southwestern Yunnan province, adjacent northeastern Myanmar. It's an ethnically diverse city with a beautiful natural landscape. Ruili is one of the major border land port cities in Yunnan, under Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture.
On April 2nd I had the privilege of attending a luncheon hosted by the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management honoring His Excellency Mohamed Rachad Bouhlal, Ambassador to the United States for the Kingdom of Morocco, and several other delegates; President of the Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer Region Council, M.M. Bouamor Taghouan; Director General of the Agency of the South, M. Ahmed Hajji and Secretary General of Economic and Social Council of Morocco, M. Driss Guerraui. The luncheon celebrated the Morocco-Hawaii Sister State relationship and the donation of an authentic Moroccan fountain to be installed on the grounds of the Hawaii State Art Museum along Richards Street.
As a representative of WATG, I conveyed our firm's design philosophy and its alignment with the Ambassador's vision for development and tourism in Morocco. WATG is already doing work in the region, so Ambassador Bouhlal was intrigued by our portfolio of world-wide projects as we discussed strategies to further tourism through planning and architecture.
We look forward to a long working relationship and collaborating to bring tourism to the region.
If you go to another WATG office halfway around the world, what would be different? This was the context of my trip as I embarked to London on a four month exchange this summer. Earlier this year, WATG wanted to initiate a staff swap program to foster greater interaction between offices. I think it took me less than a minute to write my request after it was announced. The exchange was discussed and agreed between the Managing Directors and senior leaders of each office. Afterwards, Kirsty Rutherford, my partner in the swap, and I agreed on our exchange date and off we went.
WATG just set up a new office in Fitzroy Square. A lot of moving in and construction noise going on but very impressive. The BT Tower makes for a great landmark and somewhat similar to the Aloha Tower outside the Honolulu office window.
There are two people in the Honolulu Planning team, compared to 16 in London. I think the multiplication factor worked equally in and out of the office. There are 7,825,200 in London, compared with 718,182 in Honolulu. The metropolitan area of London is equal in size to the entire island of Oahu which took some getting used to. Fortunately, all the signs are in English and the public transit system is quite good. My spare time was spent sightseeing; museums, shops, parks, etc. became a daily routine. Contrary to my predilection, I only used my umbrella a handful of times and I never had a bad meal.
Everyone in the London office welcomed me warmly and getting up and running was no problem with all the WATG conventions. Working on projects outside of my usual China projects was challenging but the place-making principles and WATG's philosophy of creating destinations that lift the spirit are very much the same. Also familiar is the great sense of exploration and yearning to discover new places and directions in design. I was fortunate enough to participate on trips to a private garden in Scotland and to Kenya, both of which were personally and professionally enriching. Missing my tropical mountains and ocean, I felt somewhat lost in the urbanity of London. Consequently, I grew to appreciate the open space of London's parks and squares. It made me realize how important open space in and urban environment is in terms of quality of life.
Now looking back at my trip, I still am amazed our global company shares so much in common. There is much to be for our unique locales but we all have a common desire for excellence in design, a curiosity of new and exotic places and a fellowship celebrating our labors at the end of the day over some drinks. And whether it's London, Honolulu, Singapore, Seattle, New York or Irvine, I think we all feel a little more at home with our WATG sign nearby. Much of what we do, we call differently, but there is much similarity both here in Honolulu and London and quite honestly wherever you go, and if we keep that in mind, it really is an incredible world we live in.
Many thanks to everyone who helped to make our staff swap possible: All the staff in the Honolulu and London Offices and Mike Seyle and Diana Stacey from Irvine.
The Honolulu office presents a bi-monthly lunch-and-learn program we call WATG-U. Each session builds upon previous presentations and keeps our designers, managers and technical staff engaged in lively conversations about contemporary design techniques and processes. It's a great opportunity to learn … without exams or papers! In this session, the legendary George Berean shares his experiences in working with Pete Wimberly and inspires all of us to think about how we approach design in this day and age.
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
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.
WATG's Seattle office recently had an old project come back to life with a new client and modified program. To kick things off, the project team flew to Oman for a charrette before filling an egregious hole in some of the team members' travel history: Dubai.
While we were all familiar with the record breaking feats of engineering and design built in the last 10+ years, some of which WATG has been a part of, seeing them in a photo does not compare to seeing them in person. Additionally, our experience has been that in the Middle East comparisons are often drawn to what has been built in Dubai; and, therefore, we should take the time to acquaint ourselves with some of the highlights (or low-lights, depending on your point of view).
Here are a few of our (including Cynthia Jacobs, Michael Brown, and Shannon Suess) observations and notes from Oman and the UAE:
1. In checking out the Omani competition before the charrette we toured Muscat Hills, Jebel Sifah, WATG-designed Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, as well as The Wave Muscat. Each development includes components and features that our team wanted to investigate during the initial stages of design because they're also part of our project.
2. Our colleague Colin Wild took us on a tour of the WATG-designed Royal Opera House currently under construction in Muscat. Yes, we walked inside the organ-what a magnificent project!
3. Our final meeting in Oman was canceled, which gave us the chance to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque's immaculately maintained grounds and prayer hall with its enormous hand-woven carpet and immense chandelier.
4. We'll go ahead and admit it-we weren't expecting to like The Burj Kalifa (big, unnecessary, ostentatious, empty)...but after a few days in Dubai, we were smitten. It's a stunning building with elegant proportions and a cladding that reflects the light and color around it. Fun fact: the tower is visible from 60 miles away.
5. The Madinat Jumeirah served as a great size and scale reference for part of our current project.
6. We took one for the team while investigating Dubai's water park offerings as a point of reference for our project by spending an afternoon at the WATG-designed Atlantis, The Palm's water park – Aquaventure. Someone had to do it!
7. We arrived in the UAE just as the new Ferrari World opened in Abu Dhabi, a must-see for anyone interested in world-class entertainment venues. It's a great family destination with plenty of growth opportunity (which is a nice way of saying it's a bit devoid of entertainment at the moment). We also questioned its long term viability (if you aren't into cars it gets old fast). However, no expense was spared-from the marble counter tops in the restrooms to the high quality cutlery at the Italian (of course) cafeteria. We'd like to say more but are still catching our breath and gathering our wits about us after that rollercoaster ride!
8. After our afternoon of driving Ferrari simulators around the Yas Marina Circuit we checked out the real thing adjacent to the Yas Hotel. Our favorite aspects of the hotel were the clean lines and smooth curves mimicking the layout of an F1 circuit: the walls, the roof, and the inlaid steel channels careening around corners and down hallways on the floor, reminiscent of the toy race tracks we had as kids.
9. Big...and bigger: we paid a visit to both Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall. Ski Dubai is everything we thought it would be (complete with mountain lodge and fake fireplace) while Dubai Mall is just staggering – the fountain, the aquarium, the ice rink, and ohhh, that bookstore!
Enroute through Amsterdam
Blogging is a vehicle for sharing ideas, information and points of view. And WATG's blog has been successful in giving over 50 staff members an opportunity to do just that.
In the first 11 months of this year, our architecture blog has been read by over 20,000 visitors to watg.com.
According to research conducted recently by HubSpot among 1,531 businesses, in addition to driving traffic to one's website, the benefits of blogging include lead generation and customer acquisition. And, as you can see from the chart below, the more often you blog, the more likely you are to create new business opportunities.
Breaking news: I am pleased to report that we got our first job that can be attributed directly to a blog.
You might call this concrete evidence of our blog's ROI (Return on Internet).
This chart was part of a presentation I shared at the SMPS National Conference.
John Goldwyn, Lisya Sullam and I recently returned from a site visit in Montenegro. We were very impressed with the atmosphere, natural beauty and architectural heritage of this country as well as with the great site we have to develop. But the most incredible experience we had was conducting our design charrette in a car while driving at high speeds through sinuous mountains along the coast!
Upon arriving at our destination, we presented three sketches that we had produced during the drive, and everyone was really excited with the ideas we came up with. The combination of beautiful surroundings and the speed of our travel certainly inspired us and contributed to a very dynamic result.