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.
Early in 2013, we interviewed a selection of leading hotel brands on the state of the branded residence sector. 2009 through 2011 were challenging years, characterised by low transaction volumes and downward pressure on prices. However, 2012 has seen a resurgence in particular geographies (notably Asia), and even in North America built inventory began to sell once more. It was a strong year for new destination deals and the operators surveyed indicated a price premium over non-branded, high-end residential, of between 20 to 35 percent, with some prime urban locations significantly outperforming these ratios. One operator surveyed, observed that the branding of real estate by a premier hotel operator typically enhanced sales velocity by 20 to 30 percent, relative to unbranded residential real estate of a similar quantity. Emerging buyer markets included Russians, Brazilians, Arabs and, of course, South East Asians. Typical buyers lie between 40 to 60 years of age.
We asked the operators how the new economic environment would impact their future development plans and they were unanimous in stating that there is now a focus on exceptional sites in prime locations rather than in secondary or tertiary destinations. In some cases, greater scrutiny will be applied to the developer to ensure that they will be a suitable and financially stable partner.
There is greater emphasis, predictably on the more robust economies, notably China and South-East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand were the most mentioned) but also Turkey, Morocco and hot spots in the Middle East (UAE and Saudi Arabia). Operator appetite is greater for urban, rather than resort locations, although exceptional resort sites will still be considered.
On average, urban branded residences are achieving annual sales absorption rates of around 50 to 80 units, although there are individual case studies of more robust sales rates in ‘hot’ emerging markets. In high-end resorts, operators historically expected sales to average between 20 and 40 units a year, although there is a strong relationship with price and this range can increase a little for those resorts where apartment products dominate the unit mix. However, these rates of sales velocity have not been achieved over the last four years in the resort market, with a few exceptions, and it remains to be seen what a typical level of sales absorption will constitute in the future.
Discussions generally indicated a rationalisation of unit sizes over the last two years. Pricing pressure makes it more attractive to develop slightly smaller units and maintain the average price per square metre. However, these are luxury products and will always need to be developed to a reasonable size in order to communicate the appropriate marketing message. In a resort context, all operators experienced an increased interest in furniture packages and resort rental pools in recent years, with up to 80 percent take up in longer haul markets.
In summary, ‘operators had a greater sense of optimism and excitement about 2013, with a strong sense that the North America market had bottomed out and emerging markets held strong potential for future growth.’
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Last week, I was invited to attend the 2013 Hawaii Business Black Book Event -- sort of. Actually, our CEO, Mike Seyle was originally invited as this was an event for CEOs, but since Mike is in California, the event organizers scratched off his name from the invitation and wrote my name in his place.
In addition to rubbing elbows with Honolulu's top CEOs, I had the privilige of meeting NFL legends: Marcus Allen, Mike Haynes, John Lynch, and Eric Dickerson.
And a few other NFL employees.
The comfort dogs that they brought in to help ease the pain of children who survived the Sandy Hook tragedy last week brought tears to my eyes. As some of you may know, we here in the New York Studio are "dog people" and understand how the unconditional love of a dog can make all the difference. From our dear "Ellie" in our New York studio, to hanging out with "Darwin" a magnificent Great Dane in our Singapore studio (owned by talented designers Brook and Jason), there is great "dog energy" that abounds at WATG and Wimberly Interiors. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families affected by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and to reflect on these special moments and gifts of innocence that dogs can provide.
On December 7th, the Wimberly Interiors joined four other Southern California hospitality firms in a showcase of masquerade masks at the annual NEWH Los Angeles Chapter's Masquerade Ball.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the entire Los Angeles studio collaborated in brainstorming sessions, developing and crafting our mask creation. Friday night the masks were part of a show and auction to raise funds for scholarships through NEWH Los Angeles.
The winning bid for our mask was $1600 from Lusive Decor - the lighting manufacturer was also one of our mask sponsors. Many thanks to Lusive Decor and Jim Thompson Fabrics for providing the materials for our mask.
Here's our mask's design process.
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.