The following is an interview of Greg Tong conducted in the February 1988 issue of Hawaii Architect when the highly anticipated Hyatt Regency Coolum was still under construction. The Australian resort was the first of its kind, featuring medical facilities, five-star hotel and condominiums, and business management training facilities, all at a single site.
Several years ago our firm was approached by a group of Australians headed by Dr. John Tickell and management consultant Ray Dalglish, who were planning to develop a Queensland, Australia resort in which a health wellness center would play a major role. They had visited an impressive list of resort cum health wellness centers in the United States and wished to advance the state of the art as they had come to know it.
They came up with a concept which is now described as an executive health management resort. Probably the first of its kind anywhere, it will combine--on a single site--medical facilities, resort hotel and condominiums, and business management training facilities. All of the above are to be supported by integrated programs.
Scheduled to open in late 1988, the Hyatt Regency Coolum is the brainchild of Melbourne medico and health management consultant Tickell, who, more than a decade ago, pioneered Australia's first corporate health management and stress evaluation clinics. Since then more than 400 Australian and U.S. companies have used his stress management services, and he has become something of a hit in boardrooms and on the international speaking circuit. Of Hyatt Regency Coolum he said, " ... (It) is the perfect destination for recreation, rejuvenation, relaxation and believe it or not, doing business.
"The magnificent oasis has the elements of five-star luxury, top class sporting and exercise facilities and the integral but magnetic attraction of health management and rejuvenation facilities, medically based, but open minded.
"The implementation has not been easy, as it is the only place where an international hotelier, big business, the National Medical Association, and a university business management service have been brought together."
The site is in Queensland on Australia's East Coast- their Sunshine Coast- in the foothills of Mount Coolum. A village setting with one- and two-story buildings of Queensland-inspired architectural character set the theme for the resort, which is set on a 350-acre site featuring lush rainforest, coastal marsh and beach dunes. Major components of the resort comprise:
Although others have done similar things, we believe this is truly the first of its kind and that, as a first, it will be a prototype, a forerunner of other projects of this kind.
We envision other developers--worldwide--coming to this project to study its design and operation, to carefully monitor its success.
As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG.
This is a story about Pete & Pete. This is the tale of George James (Pete) Wimberly, the architect, and N. Peter Canlis, the man who founded a unique covey of restaurants. For decades after its opening in March 1954, Canlis' Restaurant was a Waikiki landmark and one of the most popular and highly praised restaurants in Hawaii. Canlis Restaurant closed in March 1989 and Luxury Row now stands in it's original location at 2100 Kalakaua.
It was in 1945 and I'd just finished a darn good looking officers club on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Very soon after V-J Day I got a phone call from Peter Canlis. All he said was "One of these days you and I are going to build the world's most beautiful restaurant" and then hung up.
A couple of years later, Canlis opened his first restaurant where the Hyatt Regency now stands and it was not exactly what you'd call beautiful. Actually, he was a guy who had a $1500 budget to convert a World War II blackout Chinese restaurant, called the Golden Palms, into an acceptable steakhouse. And what do you do with $1500? You install a broiler so you don't have to enlarge the kitchen. You push out and build a wall along the sidewalk so you can put in more tables which you protect with a striped awning. You get your wife to upholster banquettes with sailcloth so you don't have to buy too many chairs. And when I asked Peter what kind of a lighting budget he had, he said zero so we lit mostly with candlelight. Finally, the place opened. Peter didn't have a liquor license so you brought your own booze. People complained about the high prices (a filet was $2.50) but flocked there anyway.
And then, in 1953, the lease expired ... they were going to build the Biltmore on the site ... and Pete had to look for a new location. He talked with the Magoons and wound up at 2100 Kalakaua Avenue.
We must have worked on a dozen schemes. My partner, Howard Cook, worked 80 hours a week and construction started when we only had a half-finished plan.
Those big timbers in the ceiling we hassled from a construction company that was going to build bridges for a plantation. Ben Norris was my aesthetic consultant--he was in the art department at UH and knew all the artists. Bumpei Akaji did the mosaic behind the bar, Mick Brownlee did the tiki and Harue McVay did ceramics.
We argued and threw things and jumped up and down. Peter always knew what he wanted. He wanted a menu that would work in a small kitchen. He wanted the ladies room located so that a woman could walk by the bar--and perhaps catch an eye--legitimately. Later, when we added a private dining room, he insisted that guests walk through the restaurant to get there. He figured people like to be seen by other people going to a fancy party.
The whole shebang was finished in around 120 days at a cost of $ 150,000 and the public did proclaim the restaurant beautiful. Wimberly attended the grand opening, then piled into Queen's hospital for a week, suffering exhaustion, His partner, Howard Cook, had a slipped disc.
Canlis payed Wimberly practically nothing for the 1946 job and not much more for the 1955 building but, in the long run, the association proved profitable for the 67-year-old architect. At first the Lotus room (where Paulo plays today) was open to the skies but a steady run of customers dictated that the area be covered and used for dining fulltime. A porte-cochere was built and, in 1960, the Orchid room.
And Wimberly went on to design Canlis' restaurants in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, all providing comfortable commissions. A $300-a-month consultant fee ran on for years, a $2500 stock investment appreciated to around $40,000 and Mr. Canlis gave Mrs. Wimberly a mink stole.
WATG is an employee owned company and being an employee owned company is something to celebrate and be proud of, so on Friday morning - Employee Ownership Day, our London office gathered together to eat breakfast, chat and hear a few words from Jeremy Heyes about the trust and exactly why we should be celebrating.
At WATG, people are important, we want to continue remaining a dynamic, creative, innovative and empowering. We are being offered the opportunity to decide the future direction of the company, the profitability and amongst other things, who our Board of Directors should be!
Being an "owner" means that we are all contributing to an exciting and positive future for our company.
We issued a challenge and it was answered. Were joined by Zaha Hadid Architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, Squire + Partners, ARUP, HOK, BDP and Foster + Partners for innaugural "Great Architectural Bake-off." The creativity and energy the respective design teams brought to constructing distinctive, edible recreations of iconic London buildings made for an exciting event. The atmosphere was buzzing with eager team members, intrigued spectators and excited children.
Teams were provided with a selection of materials, including sponges, chocolate fingers and icing but were able to bring additional edible items. The teams used jelly, sticks of rock, oreo biscuits, pre–prepared / sculpted sugar glass, edible silver spray, licorice and honeycomb! The most exciting additions were the tools used to create the masterpieces, we witnessed blow torches and Dremel drills!
The competition was judged by an esteemed panel of judges: Maxie Giertz, a cake development expert from Konditor & Cook, Gavin Hutchison, chair of Cities of London and Westminster Society of Architects (CLAWSA), and Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins, an Associate from Jestico + Whiles. The judges took their roles seriously and based their decision on creativity, technical / execution, most realistic representation, teamwork, and taste.
Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners came in third place with their oreo and sugar glass interpretation of Lloyds of London. Zaha Hadid Architects took second place with their portrayal of the Tower Bridge (which included a jelly river and cake flotilla). And in first place, Squire + Partners wowed the judges with their jelly Serpentine Pavilion lit from below with a light box. Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins said "the winner has combined lots of different elements, we liked the execution, the idea behind it, the preparation and most of all the team recognized that there was an element of showmanship in creating a cake for this type of event."
(First Place Winners: Squire + Partners)
Thanks to all who participated and making the first Great Architectural Bake-off a huge success!
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of WATG London, we will be staging a unique event this Saturday as part of the firm's participation in the London Festival of Architecture. WATG will be hosting a bake-off, where teams will have 1.5 hours to create distinctive, edible recreations of iconic London buildings.
Join us for an exciting fun-event with London's top-ranking architects.
The following is an interview of Pete Wimberly conducted in August of 1988 as part of an awards submittal for The Waikikian. The Waikian was originally built in 1956, closed for business in 1996, and ultimately demolished to make room for the Waikikian timeshare tower. It's fascinating to hear about the design of one of the most iconic hotels in Waikiki history from Pete himself, in his own words.
When we were asked to design the Waikikian, as a small but rather up-market hotel, for Mr. Fred Dailey and the Los Angeles Athletic Club, we felt that it was incumbent upon us to provide an architecture that was an expression of the culture of the Islands and, further, an architecture of signature. As a Waikiki hotel, the building's primary users would be people attracted to the idea of Polynesia--informality, tropical landscaping, Pacific arts and crafts, and architecture appropriate to the climate, if not authentic reproduction of native habitat.
The first century-and-a-half of post-European-contact architectural response to the climate and culture of Hawaii was, essentially, to ignore it--to transplant Western architecture intact. Then came World War II and for the duration there was no nonessential construction. The decade following WWII marked the beginning of an awareness of the appropriateness of designing and building in response to local environments, conditions, cultures; also an appreciation of the considerable design potential inherent in the Pacific heritage. It was a time that we began to think and to act on ideas about development of a regional architecture for Hawaii. It was a time of "clearing new ground," daring to ignore convention, seeking new solutions, reaching out, establishing new standards. In our work we used as a yardstick the question, "Is the solution right for this place?"
It was during this period that I began my private practice in Hawaii and that our firm received the Waikikian commission. It represents one example of our response to the spirit of the time. The following is an explanation of the design of that project, primarily the Lobby Building.
The area in which the Waikikian was to be built was a long, narrow piece of ground, with only a small portion of the short side facing the public street, the Ala Moana Boulevard, which is a major entrance into Waikiki. Luckily for us, the property we had to work with for the lobby building, was situated on a curve of the Ala Moana Boulevard so that anyone entering Waikiki from that direction would have a rather long-term view of the building. We felt that the project--to be a small, un-airconditioned, two-story hotel--should suggest a Polynesian or Pacific Island theme and that the buildings should be planted in a garden.
For the lobby building, we finally came up with the thought that if we approximated the shape of a spirit house from one or the other of the Pacific Trust Territory islands, we would have something both appropriate in style and also a striking enough shape to form a signature for the hotel. Since the shape of these buildings was approximately that of a hyperbolic paraboloid, we discussed this with our engineer, Mr. Richard Bradshaw, and he agreed that building a building with a thin shell of wood was technically possible. After a great deal of discussion, we decided that it would be possible to build the building, using two or three layers of nominal 1 x 4 tongue and groove flooring. We had only the edges milled in tongue and groove configuration and left both of the flat sides unmilled to provide as much depth dimension as possible. The first two layers were laid over a framework of straight cut 2 x 12 placed on a scaffold to form a hyperbolic paraboloid and were nailed lightly to the 2 x 12s with 8 penny nails at 6" on center. Since the edges were the part of the structure which held the entire framework together, these were made out of bolted laminated timbers which were twisted to conform to the edges of the boards. The boards were bound to this external structural rib with continual angles top and bottom bolted into the laminated beam and through tongue and groove ceiling layers. The first two layers were put in place and then a membrane was mopped on the top of this surface and then another layer was placed on top to provide a visually pleasant surface. In order to emphasize the nature of this structure, the 1 x 4 tongue and grooves were laid up all in a pattern of redwood and Douglas fir, giving striped effect which is indeed pleasing and unusual.
In the pictures of the finished building you will notice a tension cable between the two roof peaks. Note also that this is fastened to the figure heads. The figure heads extended back underneath the wooden membrane, but the main part of the weight was on the upright, which weighed something over 2,000 lbs. Since there was nothing to keep the figure heads upright, except the extension under the membrane, and the membrane was quite flexible, the weight began to deform the hyperbolic paraboloid in a most unaesthetic way and we were afraid that it might cause failure. Running a light cable between the two uprights solved the problem, although I must admit that the engineer felt that it was a bad commentary on his design even though it was an architectural, not an engineering, fault which caused it.
The pictures of the architectural model show very clearly what results when you attempt to draw parallel lines on a hyperbolic paraboloid, which is exactly what happens when you try to crisscross tongue and groove boards which have a finite width. Also note in some of the pictures that the verticals, which hold the glass in place, are not structural, for if we attempted to tie the structure to these vertical uprights, we would again deform the membrane. These uprights are tied to the membrane with a small pipe, which is welded to a strap iron stirrup, which is held away from the end of the wooden upright in order to provide further stretching of the membrane as it moves from quite cool in the evening to quite hot during the day. Before the figure heads were put on, we measured the difference between the peaks from dead cool to dead hot and it came to about one foot. In placing the cable, we had to take this into consideration in order to make sure the membrane was not deformed by the rigidity built into the catenary cable between the two figure heads.
When the main building was conceived and we turned to design the other buildings, we knew that these had to be of fireproof construction. Because of the presence of wood in the main building, we felt that we should technically use mill construction which is essentially very heavy timber. We selected an A-frame as a basic structure of the building and used an infill of concrete bloc between the 6" members to form the party wall between all the rooms. This is technically a half-timber construction. On the exterior walls, the infill was Hawaiian lava rock, which we also used extensively in the garden area. The pitched roof formed by the A-frame was covered with cedar shingles and the flat roofs, of course, with mopped on felt and tar.
The hotel itself consisted of a series of two-story single-loaded corridor buildings, with the entrance to the rooms from the property line side. All of the rooms have balconies facing into the garden court. Since the garden court was very long and narrow, we made the walk way from the main building to the room buildings and the dining room a serpentine so that its narrow length was not apparent. The garden itself was heavily planted with banana palms to start with, as they very quickly gave a very lush and impenetrable jungle effect. Later on, some of these were thinned out and other plants were put in. The dining room itself is an open lanai with louver doors in place for use in case of Kona storms. The swimming pool near the beach completed the project.
Later on, we made a six-story annex of reinforced concrete and here we ornamented the front of the building with a rather large tiki and Hawaiian ornaments designed and constructed by Edward Brownlee who was also responsible for the figure heads on the main building.
As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG.
The following is an interview of Don Goo conducted by Pacific Business News in March of 1993, while he was chairman of WATG. Don talks about how jet travel and technology made it practial to work internationally, and how Pete correctly predicted the expansion of tourism throughout the Pacific.
For Hawaii architects in 1963, doing business was still largely a regional operation, but for our firm it was a time of great excitement, as we were on the cutting edge of pushing geographic boundaries.
Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo Architects founder Pete Wimberly--a visionary in predicting expansion of tourism in the Pacific--had been assertively pursuing opportunities to lead in the opening up of the Pacific Rim. We had pacesetting non-Hawaii projects under way (Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel in American Samoa and the Fijian Hotel in Fiji), but the pace of the business process and therefore the procedures and ways of thinking were vastly different from those of 1993. I am reminded, for example, of sending cables and waiting a week for a response.
Thanks to statehood , jet transportation and advancement in communication technology, the pace of doing business accelerated well beyond our 1960s imaginations, making it practical to conduct business on an international scale. Today, it's no big thing to talk to clients in Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City and Lisbon; fax them drawings and receive responses by fax, phone and/or voice mail, all in a single day.
George J. "Pete" Wimberly, George V. Whisenand, Gerald L. Allison, Gregory M.B. Tong, and Donald W.Y. Goo in 1971
Ultimately all this, including other factors, has led to a global perspective--concerning economics, the environment, politics, health and cultural concerns.
In our firm, these changes are reflected in our field of operations (offices in Honolulu; Newport Beach, California; London; Singapore), where we have projects (in more than 50 countries), and in the way we design buildings.
Again, technology has changed things--for in stance, the materials we specify; the way we gather, store, and retrieve information: and, particularly, the way we do drawings--by computer-aided design.
Alas, technology has not speeded up the regulatory processes associated with architecture. In Hawaii, population growth--and complexities resulting therefrom--and bureaucracy slow down the design and construction process, contributing to rising construction costs.
Of special interest to us, as designers, is the change in architectural styles. In the '60s the trend was strongly "modern," "contemporary." In the 90s, the focus is on thinking contextually, environmentally, "Old" is OK. "Historic" is great. And now everyone thinks "green."
In the early years of our firm, we designed in the lean, clean modem mode--but never exclusively. Despite criticism by colleagues, we designed what is often called "grass shack" hotels, which were. in fact, based on tried-and-true principles for their particular climates and cultures.
Today, this is called environmentally and culturally sensitive architecture. Often our grass-shack projects (such as Hotel Bora Bora) were landmarks and still remain high-profile. And among our most warmly received projects of the '90s are those that hark back to a softer architecture than that which was generally "in" in the '60s.
One notable example is Hyatt Regency Kauai, a 1990s reflection of a Hawaiian architecture of the '30s. In this project we used technology of the '90s together with design elements well proven to be highly appropriate to Hawaii's climate and people - thus combining the best of both old and new in search of timelessness.
This kind of thinking may well be going on at Pacific Business News as it celebrates 30 years of business in Hawaii--an effort to balance what is learned from the past with application of advanced technology, and to fit comfortably and profitably within a global as well as local context.
Donald W. Y. Goo is chairman of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo Architects.
As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG.
The following is an interview of Greg Tong conducted by Hawaii Architect in August of 1986, shortly after the opening of the Ramada Great Barrier Reef Resort. The resort was the first of it's kind anywhere in the world, where all major trees were retained, and the building was designed to be a part of the forest rather than apart from it. Even the pool was built well above the ground to avoid damage to tree roots.
It's achievable." "It doesn't take a megabuck insurance company." "You need not be a development giant to put together a well-designed environmentally responsible resort hotel that will attract a good operator, command favorable rates, make money"--that's what this project, Ramada Reef Resort, says loud and clear.
Well, in fact, not so loudly. For this 3- and 4-story 200-room resort nestles quietly among a splendid grove of palms and ancient melaleuca (paper bark) trees. It was designed to have a sense of permanence, a timeless quality that makes no loud statement that would be likely to date it. Only a quiet road separates the 5-acre site from picturesque Palm Cove Beach.
What's important--and exciting--about the project is that it reflects success within modest means and wise use of natural resources.
Our client, Peter A. Jans, was a first-time hotel developer, a Cairns attorney heading a group of dedicated backers with a strong commitment to doing things "right" even though working with a less than generous budget. Inherent in this commitment was a firm determination to preserve the integrity of the site. Consider what he says on the subject:
"We acquired the property in 1981, the primary motivation being the presence of massive melaleuca and palm trees, some of which were identified as being up to 1,000 years of age."
"It was always considered essential that whatever development took place, it would be in concert with the trees, and this has been my overriding development philosophy throughout."
"...the design concept was settled with the footprints of the building carefully designed to create a courtyard around a central heavily timbered area and 'notched' to retain and enhance existing major trees.
"Development commenced in January 1985 at which time the entire central courtyard was fenced off to prevent anyone from entering that area and causing any damage or interference with the natural ecology. We also bonded the builders at $10,000 per tree to discourage any carelessness."
Believe me, this is an atypical approach in Australia-as it is in many other places-where the norm is to come in, bulldoze everything and present the architect with a denuded site. In this instance, the client was enlightened. This enabled us to take advantage of what nature had provided and made it possible for us to achieve a non-oceanfront resort of exceptional value.
It did take some fancy footwork, but all major trees were retained, and the building was designed to be a part of the forest rather than apart from it. We allowed the trees to dominate and the architecture to remain subordinate in statement. Ninety light brown stained concrete columns that support the building were cast in a mold made from a rose gum log, giving the columns a remarkably tree-like appearance. Balcony planters tend to obscure indoor-outdoor boundaries and contribute to a sense of being in the trees. Open walkways and notches also give guests "tree experiences" as do rustling tree sounds. All rooms have lanais and each enjoys either an ocean or garden view. The building wraps around the central court, which features a large lagoon-like swimming pool, which, like the building itself, weaves and notches to leave the trees undisturbed.
In addition to our client's ability to see the forest and the trees, there were other factors at work which contributed to the smoothness of the project process.
It should be noted that the Queensland/Cairns government is actively supportive of tourism development. And while there was no direct government involvement in this project, it did have the full support and encouragement of government as evidenced particularly by rapid approvals.
Especially significant to the success of the project process, and its overall success, were some outstanding attributes of the client. As a true entrepreneur, he was willing to take risks. Once he had selected his team of professionals he put his trust and confidence in them and was willing to listen to them, to be guided by their recommendations.
This is not meant to suggest that he was inattentive. On the contrary. He was very much involved. And for a layman he was extremely perceptive. His afterhours inspections-when he could take time to reflect-were quite helpful.
Most important, however, he had clear goals that were compatible with ours. Perhaps of equal importance was his ability to communicate these goals.
It was this mutuality of goals and confidence, plus careful communication in both directions, that saw us successfully through some major and unusual problems. For example, a switch in contractors in midstream might well have turned the project sour. As it is, we feel very good about it. We think it's a terrific project. In addition to our design ability, we feel that we brought to the project a level of experience that gave us the ability to anticipate what would happen. As the client had confidence in us, we were able to save him time and, therefore, money.
But we're old hands at hotel design. Our client was a "beginner." How does he feel coming out of this "virgin" experience. Do we still have his trust? Here's what he says:
"This is the first hotel/resort I have built and as such it was a massive learning curve. I have certainly learned to avoid many mistakes in future developments. "Probably the most essential lesson is the necessity of having a highly professional, cohesive and sympathetic team of consultants involved from the outset. The communication and interplay of ideas and experiences between the architects, landscape architects and interior designers (let alone builders, engineers and contractors) is essential to maximize site potential. This is something that we most certainly achieved in Ramada Reef Resort."
"Undeniably, the experience was at times somewhat harrowing, but one that I would not have exchanged for anything. The feeling of satisfaction and achievement in watching my dreams and those of the consultants turn into reality is rare and treasured."
Ramada International, the operator, also expressed pleasure with this latest property of theirs. It's part of their new wave of Pacific Rim expansion which will add 2600 new rooms in Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul by 1988.
But the real measure of a hotel is in its ability to please people. Ramada Reef had its soft opening in April and will have its grand opening in late September. How is it being received by its most important public-hotel guests? Early on-site reports tell us guests are giving it very high marks, comparing it favorably with several giants in the field. And Peter Jans tells us, "The local residents have applauded and complimented the development, the local authorities have supported it with pride, and tourist operators throughout the world, as well as in the community, have assured us of its success." WWAT&G is pleased to have been a part of this project. We think we have created something of value.
After having just spent two and a half weeks in Nepal trekking through the Langtang Valley and visiting areas in and around Kathmandu the recent earthquake in the area has left the four of us really shaken. Less than two weeks ago we were there standing in some of the spots that were hardest hit. We have pictures of beautiful temples and buildings that two weeks later have been reduced to a pile of bricks.
(Langtang Village – According to reports on Nepal Television (NTV), via a tweet from reporter Michael Holmes at CNN, the valley is "completely destroyed." And according to myrepublica.com, Chief District Officer Uddhav Prasad Bhattarai stated that the village of Langtang was engulfed by an avalanche triggered by the quake, with more than 100 people feared dead, the roadway partially blocked and 90 percent of the district's houses damaged.)
(April 12, 2015 Kathmandu Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Kathmandu Durbar Square)
(April 14, 2015 Bhaktapur Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Bhaktapur Durbar Square)
(April 18, 2015 Patan Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Patan Durbar Square)
We met such friendly people and kids, some of whom we can only hope are still alive and well, and a handful we were able to confirm are okay.
The idea that if our trip was planned for a week later, we would have been in the midst of it all, is so surreal.
If you considering donating to the relief effort, these are the organizations we plan to donate to: Save the Children and Global Giving. Please consider donating to either of these groups or any other you feel would use your donations best. (If you'd like to see how these and other charities rate, please see this page.)
The following is an interview of Jerry Allison conducted by The Architects' Journal in December of 1992 shortly after the grand opening of the Palace of The Lost City in Sun City, South Africa. The Lost City pushed the boundaries of technology and construction for a highly detailed and complex fast-track project.
I'd never done anything like this before except in my mind. Usually my architecture relates to specific architecture that has developed in a region - we've worked in Malaysia, Japan, the south Pacific islands, relating the new architecture to the old, taking into account the religion, the culture, the weather of the region. In this case no society had ever been there before, so we made up our own. The closest we've come to anything like this would be the work we've done with Disney.
I had some doubts at first whether we could build what my imagination first came up with, but in fact it has turned out to be very close. For years I had thought about what Africa really was, the mystery of it. This was my first trip there. I thought here was a chance to do something that was really a fantasy. It was a case of "let's find a piece of architecture, the remains of an old city that we find as explorers- and make it into an hotel."
Out of that grew a lot of legends. The main one involved a royal family who started out on a journey in Africa, from Morocco or somewhere like that, wandering south across the desert lands and the jungles until they got to what we termed the Valley of the Sun- there are lots of things relating to sun because of Sol Kerzner and Sun International. This legendary valley was supposed to be full of peace and happiness, like Shangri-La, a mystical destination. The family settled there and established a new society based on love of the land, of the environment.
One day there was a great earthquake, and although the people managed to escape, the city was destroyed. The only thing that survived was the palace. The royal family eventually died out and the jungle took over the palace, until it was recently discovered. The people who then rebuilt it remembered that their ancestors had built lots of towers and domes and arches, but had forgotten the Islamic meaning of these things. They picked up instead on elements of their surroundings, plant life and animal life, and developed their own unique architecture.
We were hoping that the African construction techniques were capable of building what we imagined - we found that they were capable of building a shell, but less capable, at first, of building the decorative elements in a manner that would keep up with the schedule. Their methods of precasting had been traditional, making wood moulds or steel moulds. To my knowledge there was no use of glass fibre reinforced concrete, nor of cold casting. But they picked it up very quickly. Construction took 22 months; the design work had taken less than a year. I know of nothing comparable that's ever been that fast.
We used a lot of aging techniques to make the buildings and the environment look old. Basically you just put thinned-down paint on the walls and spray it with a misty hose; it runs down and you've got a stained wall! Another technique is hand-rubbing with rags.
The hotel is at 5000 feet, so the mornings and evenings are cool, which influenced the shape of our building - we used lots of courtyards. The construction materials all came from Africa- Africa is rich in marble - while the interior design materials were imported.
It's fantasy architecture but it's also serious. It's really based on what might possibly- or probably have happened if there had been a civilisation on that site. We could have done something contemporary, but there is nothing contemporary in the region. We could have done African huts but there have never been African huts there. I don't think it's kitsch. I could only accept that accusation from someone who hasn't been there to see it.
Every time I go under the very high space of the rotunda entry, or the crystal court - which is probably the biggest hotel space I've ever seen - I get a chill. There's very little I'd want to change. What I've learned from the project is that if you can imagine it, you can build it.