Designing a resort that embodies “futuristic luxury” certainly calls for blue-sky thinking. However, implementing those lofty dreams is another matter, particularly in earthquake-prone Japan.
Plugged-in proficiency meets switched-off serenity at the Laguna Baycourt Club Hotel and Spa Resort in Gamagori, Japan, the largest onsen (hot spring) resort town in the country’s Aichi Prefecture. Self-proclaimed as the region’s first luxury membership hotel and spa resort, the destination from Nagoya, Japan-based developer Resorttrust features interiors created via a tripart collaboration among Hong Kong-based AB Concept; Tokyo-based interior designer Tanseisha; and the Aichi branch of the Osaka-headquartered Yasui Architects & Engineers.
Following Tanseisha’s recommendation to Resorttrust, AB Concept was appointed to conceive the overall interiors concept for the nine-story, 135,000-sq.-ft. structure. Inspiration for the streamlined approach, dubbed “The Great Wave,” was drawn from the Mikawa Bay locale and the fluid architectural lines curved to mirror its coast. AB Concept’s scope encompassed the public and members’ reception areas, the concierge desk, the lobby and loune, Maroce Italian restaurant, the Monarch Bar and the three guiding concepts for 193 all-suite guestrooms. In addition to developing these suite concepts and providing technical support to AB Concept, Tanseisha designed the Japanese restaurant Zigi, Chinese restaurant Cho-Yu-Ro, the spa, ballroom and circulation areas.
Key to achieving the light-filled purity underpinning AB Concept’s vision was the creation of spaces with cohesive, seamless connections to nature that expressed the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, or the acceptance of imperfection. “In Japanese aesthetics, there’s no such things as the centerpiece, so accents such as flower arrangements are purposely off-center,” says Ed Ng, cofounder and principal, AB Concept. In the lobby, a pair of curved acrylic screens—which, upon close observation prove to be asymmetrical—create degrees of privacy for the two reception desks, yet permit views of the bay through the 18-ft., full-height glazing.
Rather than applying the expected focus on local materials, AB Concept was keen to highlight Japanese technical and engineering expertise. “Japan’s building industry is highly experience with acrylic and metal installations,” says Ng. “In Maroce, the twisted, polished gold metal features were precisely laser cut with a pattern almost like veined leaves, yet they are also lightweight and stable during earthquakes.”
Ng explains that as foreign-based designers, AB Concept’s lack of detailed knowledge about the restrictive building practices necessitated to comply with Japan’s regulations for safeguarding structures against earthquake damage was, in fact, a bonus. Rather than being stifled by practicality, they were able to let their imaginations fly in pursuit of Resorttrust’s brief to create “futuristic luxury.”
“Safety is the number one concern in Japan, and the dangers of earthquakes determine the smallest things,” Ng says. “You can’t just hang paintings on screws; you need to adhere them to walls because they move up and down during tremors. Our amazing technical support team had all this know-how, so as designers coming from abroad, we could just focus on concepts. By not knowing too much about Japanese conventions, we were able to create something that surprised Resorttrust. I think it’s one of the reasons they purposely appointed a designer who wasn’t Japanese.”
Fortunately, Tanseisha’s team, along with Yasui Architects & Engineers and the Chubu, Japan, branch of the Tokyo-headquartered general contractor Kajima Corporation, embraced the challenge of bringing AB Concept’s theoretical ideas into reality—although convincing everyone “the impossible” was possible required persistence, motivation and cooperation, says Junichi Hasumi, creative director, design center, Tanseisha. “We had to forget about supposed limits and combine our wisdom to find solutions,” he says. “Over time, attitudes changed, and the team grew proud of being able to make something challenging become possible.”
The lobby’s acrylic screens put this dedication to the test. Resorttrust enthusiastically embraced the concept. But, the engineers determined that the curvature was impossible to create in acrylic, and glass would not comply with building codes. Ng was devastated. “What happened next shows why we were so grateful for our Japanese colleagues,” he says. “They told us, ‘You love it, so let’s sit down together and work it out.’” Hasumi’s brainwave was an adaptation of sudare, the traditional Japanese roller blinds made from bamboo slats. The contemporary take? 1,500 differently-shaped pieces of flat acrylic meticulously staggered in a rounded shape and stabilized by a stainless steel framework that also houses lighting and electrical supply. “My worst moment in the design process turned into my best moment, thanks to everyone’s teamwork,” says Ng.
Collaborative problem-solving also came into play in the Monarch Bar. Deceptively simple in appearance, a silver-toned elliptical light appears to hover at an angle above the bar. “Most contractors asked us, ‘Why don’t you make it a circle? Why not hang it horizontally?’” says Hasumi. “However, it was important we respected AB Concept’s vision.”
After numerous assessments, it became clear that making the elliptical shape from one piece of metal was not viable. Hasumi’s team adapted a solution conventionally used for plumbing pipes, sand molded casting, with the metal casing made in three sections of roughly textured steel that was then “polished like crazy” to make it shine. Three thin steel pipes at the joints encase the power supply while creating stability in case of earthquakes. As a result, the fixture retains the feel of lightness and purity that runs cohesively throughout the design concept.
Another feat achieved by Tanseisha’s team included creating the visual effects desired by AB Concept, but with cost-effective alternatives. The lobby lounge’s feature wall and columns, for example, were originally intended to be clad in oxidized brass sheets and sourced from Takaoka, a Japanese city renowned for metalwork. While artisans from this region are well known for their skills, commissioning them would have been a long and extremely expensive process. “Rather than hire famous makers, we found ‘no-name’ craftspeople to lower our costs,” says Hasumi.
But that didn’t mean quality was sacrificed. For the lobby lounge, a painter created multitudes of samples before applying the version that best matched the finish in the rendering. “After the work was done, AB Concept complimented us, saying it was exactly what they wanted and faithful to their design intent,” he says. However Tanseisha did use “real” brass from Takaoka for the elevator lobbies and doors to maintain synergy between spaces designed by two different studios.
“With Japanese projects, it’s not necessary to have onsite teams. We just need to visit to approve the mock-ups,” says Ng. “After they see our renderings, they conduct a massive study, asking hundreds of questions until they are 100% sure of every detail. Before breaking ground, everything will be completely designed and resolved so you almost always have an accurate estimation of the completion date.”
It’s this pursuit of perfection by merging people’s passions and wisdom that Hasumi believes characterizes true luxury design. “Luxury items have become mass-made and more easily accessible, so there is no scarcity, uniqueness or difficulty in obtaining them,” he says. “Real luxury is something that’s not easy to create; it needs to come from people’s minds and hearts with the labor and skills to create this one thing.”
For Laguna Baycourt Club, AB Concept and Tanseisha’s creation of futuristic luxury with a wabi-sabi context meant accepting challenges as opportunities to achieve what seems impossible.
ARCHITECT AND DESIGN ADMINISTRATOR
Yasui Architects & Engineers
J. Front Retailing
Sumisho Interior International
GOLD STEEL SCREEN
Takashimaya Space Create
Koizumi Lighting Technology
Bo & Co
Pan Interior Proucts
Sumisho Interior International
Nagoya Mosaic Tile