PortfolioNew Caspian City
Republic of Dagestan, Russia
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.
About a year ago I saw a short movie made by someone who travels a lot for his work. Inspired by what I saw, I decided to make my own to show my family what it's like on one of our trips. Last November I had a long trip to Vietnam & China which seemed like a good opportunity to make a movie. This is the result.
Strip Appeal is an ideas design competition and traveling exhibit, intended to stimulate and showcase creative design proposals for the adaptive reuse of small-scale strip-malls. They asked designers to answer the question, "how might the small-scale strip be reinvented and redeveloped to local advantage?"
My submission focused on re-designing an existing strip mall in Minneapolis, introducing fresh food, public art and community green space to a neighborhood in need of these shared assets.
To view my official submission, click here.
They say that Pete Wimberly was an "outdoors" person and hated air-conditioning. Hopefully he would have approved of our day out of the office enjoying the sun and tropical breezes at the Kohler Southeast Asian Golf Challenge held at the Tanah Merah Country Club representing WATG. On the 10th of November 2011, Robertino Limandibhratha, Nora Kaichung Pui and I had the great pleasure of enjoying a day with colleagues in the design industry on one of the top courses in Singapore, courtesy of our hosts Kohler, who have richly combined their pursuits in hospitality, design and golf.
The morning was greeted with warm hospitality, goodie bags, specially-allocated locker space with our names tagged over it, and a meet-and-greet with Mr. David Kohler himself. The buggies rolled out with all the hopefuls of landing a hole-in-one (after David announced the prize of $80,000 and their brand new "Numi"!). Our golf shoes brushed over dew blanketed fairways, divots were sacrificial and bunkers were not-to-be-mentioned-of. The air was filled with shrieks of joy and grunts of despair as the game progressed under the sweet tropical sun. Playing as a team allowed us to cheer whenever one of us sank a long putt and commiserate together over the bad shots.
What do golf and design have in common?
Both are about immersion and being in the zone, enjoying interventions through acts of the hand and eye and being lost in time and space - being in paradisical landscapes either in our head or in reality. It was great to have the opportunity to share our passions for both the sport of golf and design.
Thank you WATG for the opportunity and Kohler for the great golf day out!
"For me it, it was great to bond with my colleagues and to discover their hidden talents - golf brings out the best and worst in us and my impressions of my cool, tempered colleagues were only reinforced by their style and approach to the game."
"For me, it was just a priceless moment and what an opportunity to be able to take a break and go out on the course representing the company and having a great time with my colleagues."
The golf course was beautiful and Kohler as the host, was superb. We should do this more often guys, whether playing golf, tennis or simply picnic in the park. Lets get some "work hard and play hard" attitude going and have some fun together!
Nora Kaichung Pui
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.
One of the joys of our line of work is that we get to combine our passion for travel with our work. When those two interests overlap on the same trip, it's even better. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Shanghai for the fist time for a project. Not only was this a client presentation but it was also an opportunity to work across offices with the Singapore interiors team and the interiors team in Irvine. Prior to our client presentation, Zia Hansen and I met up, booked a car for the day, and armed with a list of hotels, we set off to see what Shanghai has to offer. Alas, our driver did not speak English, so the concierge at hotel was kind enough to translate our 'wish list' so that the driver would know where to take us. This proved to be an adventure throughout the day, as the driver would take us to each location and it was not until we arrived that we knew which hotel we were visiting! We spent the day taking in about 10 hotels, looking at F+B outlets, taking in the vibe of the lobby, walking guest corridors, and when possible asking for room tours.
Our tour included well known brands like Marriott and St. Regis and newer players like Hotel Indigo. We even took in a small property called the Waterhouse that was very charming.
By far the most gracious was our tour of the Waldorf Astoria. Thru some contacts I was able to get an in depth personal tour of the property for us. We walked the hotel up and down, toured the rooms and suites, got to ride in the historic elevators (only operated by select trained staff) and see the famed Long Bar, located in the historic old gentleman club that the new hotel tower is attached to. It was a real treat to get an in depth perspective on a beautifully designed hotel.
Shanghai was thriving, full of energy, and a sight to see. The Bund lit up at night, is a thing of beauty, and the people gathered and walking along the expansive waterfront path is delightful. Across the river, in the Pudong, towering skyscrapers meet Vegas with lighting that illuminate the skyline in a kaleidoscope of LEDs.
In the end is was an exhausting but rewarding day spent learning about properties in the area and gaining insight in the city we would soon be putting our mark on.
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.
We had an amazing turnout for parking day. Though the morning started out a bit chilly, the sun eventually arrived along with hundreds of Seattle pedestrians willing to give our Plinko game a try! WATG's parking-day "park" was bustling for the entire six hours of operation, reaching its peak at lunchtime when most of the WATG Seattle staff came out to lend a hand. By 2:30 pm we had given away more than 300 wildflower seed bombs and 50 tulip bulbs for residents and visitors to plant this fall.
While many people only had a minute to spare on their way to work, some passers-by stopped for longer to hang out and chat, and several people contributed to our green promise tree, committing to personal conservation efforts like walking and recycling.
The best part of parking day was watching the expressions of people who were initially skeptical about our no-strings-attached fun and free prizes. But when most people left the park they were ecstatic about having avoided signing their name to a cause while still leaving with a free seed to plant. The idea of reclaiming a parking space for public use was also entertaining and positive for people, and we definitely converted some skeptics, who may make a park themselves next September in the streets of Seattle.
Parking space before
PARK(ing) Day 2011 is in a few days, and the Seattle team is in full swing preparing for the big reveal. Our theme embraces environmental issues regarding green spaces in keeping with the organization's mission, in a fun way. Our concept is Give & Take: WATG's Seattle office will Give a Seed & Take a Promise of giving back to the planet. Passersby are encouraged to write down that promise on the spot as a reminder. Seed balls are being made in-house as the handout. It's all meant to be fun & informative without being overwhelming. Fun is key -- a giant PLINKO game is being constructed! The temporary 'park' will be on 1st avenue, near the famous Pike's Market and will take up two parking spaces.
Stay tuned as we continue to prepare and actually participate!
One of the best parts about my job as an architect designing hospitality projects around the world is the opportunity to visit many of our projects' destinations to experience, and learn from, our client's competition in a given locale. There are moments of inspiration and wonder. There are (I can admit) moments of envy at not having thought of something first. And then there are moments of…?
On a recent trip to Vietnam, one resort, in particular, stood out amongst the crowd. I recall briefly glancing at a few online images prior to booking our rooms and seeing advertisements for the resort in the in-flight magazine, where I noted the opening date of January 2010 (a full 18 months prior to my arrival, the importance of which will soon be clear). It boasted a large infinity-edge pool, great guestrooms and other standard accoutrements for a tropical beach resort of its type. In short, I was looking forward to the stay and to documenting it for future reference.
Little did I know at the time that my documentation would be of quite a different sort. Things started off promising; the lobby was fantastically large and the guestroom palette spoke of elegance and sophistication. I liked it. Then I stepped onto the balcony echoing with the sounds of circular saws slicing through stone. Eighteen months after opening, I could see construction underway around the pool, the fitness center, what I assume will be a specialty restaurant, and nearly an entire wing of guestrooms. It was curious, but I didn't give it much thought. Low season I told myself, some minor tune-ups, not a big deal. The more I explored, however, the more I came to realize I'd arrived at a textbook example of how not to run a hotel.
Throughout my short stay I kept my camera in hand, ready for the next photo-op of what-not-to-do. What sort of things did I stumble upon? For instance, the hotel staff was kind enough to leave a variety of vertical-chase doors open for me to investigate. The route to the emergency stairs was a virtual wonderland of half-conceived retrofits, dangling wires and accessible, unused roof terraces. The hotel directory helpfully informed me that the spa was located on the second floor; but when the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by a dark vestibule covered in dirt and construction debris with a stack of mattresses two meters high. I wish I could say I took the responsible course of action and alerted the hotel staff to their potentially dangerous oversight, but instead I snapped a picture, tweeted it, and rushed off to tell my colleagues about my discovery before our next appointment.
My experience at this particular resort -- while entertaining for someone who uses every stay as a chance to explore and learn -- spoke of the importance of taking great care in making a choice about who will design, operate and maintain your hotel. Guests don’t want to spend their holiday at a construction site. They don't even want to see a back-of-house corridor. It is up to us as designers and our clients as developers and operators to ensure that doesn't happen.
Also, I never did find the spa.