De­sign & Ar­chi­tec­ture

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - Laura El­liott speaks to JEAN-MICHEL GATHY Prin­ci­pal De­signer at Den­nis­ton

Jean-michel Gathy on the dance of de­sign, sym­me­try & sav­ing the planet with Leonardo Di Caprio.

I spend a good deal of my recre­ational time on the wa­ter. In my sail­boat I sense all the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties of the Pa­cific, her sea­sons and her mys­ter­ies. So when the world-renown de­signer of lux­ury ho­tels and mas­ter of wa­ter-fea­ture de­sign, Jean-michael Gathy, had an op­por­tu­nity to speak with me we be­gan our con­ver­sa­tion over our mu­tual love of wa­ter.

I won­dered if wa­ter had been a life­style for him, like it is for me, and what in­spired his wa­ter fea­tures. He laughed say­ing this was a good ques­tion and per­haps best talked about over a glass of whiskey. When I re­minded him sailors drink rum, he heartily laughed and had this to say.

“I am fas­ci­nated by wa­ter,” he said. “Why am I fas­ci­nated by wa­ter? It is the same for the sailor. Why do you en­joy the sea? For me, wa­ter gives me a feel­ing of space, the feel­ing of free­dom, the feel­ing of flow­ing. On top of the wa­ter for you, you have the wind, you have that feel­ing of in­fi­nite lines or spe­cific is­land ap­proach or big rock ap­proach. It is the same for me.”

He went on to say that he en­joys in­clud­ing wa­ter in lux­ury re­sort de­sign be­cause it em­pha­sises the con­trol of space. Dur­ing the day peo­ple are off do­ing what they love to do at the beach, on the wa­ter, in the moun­tains or wher­ever. But at night, the wa­ter sparkles. At night at the re­sort all is dark and the wa­ter is re­flec­tive. It is at once dra­matic and sooth­ing, inspiring and tran­quil. The wa­ter can il­lu­mi­nate like a chan­de­lier, some­thing grand to liven up the dark­ness, giv­ing a beau­ti­ful fo­cal point that eases body, mind and spirit.

At once a lively and yet to­tally calm­ing com­po­nent, he pointed out there is an ab­so­lute fas­ci­na­tion when a per­son sits at a restau­rant, bar or lounge and views a foun­tain or wa­ter fea­ture. “Have you ever wit­nessed your­self sit­ting be­side a foun­tain do­ing noth­ing? Now, would you sit in the gar­den do­ing noth­ing for three hours? No. You would last twenty min­utes. But sit in front of a fire­place or foun­tain, and you can do noth­ing for three hours.”

Sym­me­try pro­vides one of the fun­da­men­tal el­e­ments of re­lax­ation, he says adding that this is a sci­en­tific fact. Peo­ple have a fun­da­men­tal psy­cho­log­i­cal need to cre­ate bal­ance in their mind. That’s why when peo­ple see some­thing sym­met­ri­cal like Borobudur and the Taj Ma­hal they are in­stantly re­laxed and calm. Our eyes and mind love sym­me­try.

“The word for com­fort is bal­ance,” he said. I had read that he likened a beau­ti­ful ho­tel to a dance. So I asked him which of his projects is his most mem­o­rable dance. Af­ter lament­ing that an­swer­ing is like ask­ing him to pick a favourite child, he said, “An ar­chi­tect is a chore­og­ra­pher.”

Gathy be­lieves it doesn’t mat­ter if you de­sign a brick, or a tree or fab­ric––what counts is when they have to dance to­gether. He said that he tries to de­sign a seam­less prod­uct sim­i­lar to a ballet’s holis­tic per­for­mance, and not de­fined by any one spe­cific piece.

Great de­sign is not an ad­di­tion of el­e­ments

“Wa­ter gives me a feel­ing of space, the feel­ing of free­dom.”

but rather a jux­ta­po­si­tion of el­e­ments.

Gathy said that one ex­am­ple where this seam­less dance has been per­fected is the Chedi Mus­cat, Oman. De­signed in 2000, the ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­rior and land­scape de­sign work to­gether smoothly. The Che­val Blanc, Rand­heli, Mal­dives; The Se­tai, Mi­ami Beach; and the Aman­yara in Turks and Caicos he said are other won­der­ful ex­am­ples of this well-bal­anced holis­tic ap­proach.

I couldn’t help but won­der how the Aman­yara faired in the aftermath of Irma and Maria––two pun­ish­ing Cat 5 hur­ri­canes that fu­ri­ously pounded the Caribbean last Septem­ber, just two weeks apart. He laughed a bit and thanked me for ask­ing, say­ing he had some brag­ging rights.

“Un­be­liev­able, we had vir­tu­ally no dam­age. Of course we had land­scape dam­age all the trees were up­rooted, etc. but ar­chi­tec­turally we only had two 18-foot high doors in the bar that sus­tained a bit of dam­age and a few pago­das around the pool were a bit bro­ken. But we didn’t even have a win­dow blown out,” he said.

As long as we were talk­ing Caribbean, I asked about his much-an­tic­i­pated project with Leonardo Dicaprio in Belize. I wanted to know the most ex­cit­ing as­pect of the green project de­sign there and what one thing he re­ally looked for­ward to de­vel­op­ing.

He said the project is sig­nif­i­cant and why he ad­mires Leonardo Dicaprio so much, ex­plain­ing that while peo­ple talk about all kinds of prob­lems we face like wars and North Korea, the most fun­da­men­tal of all prob­lems to­day is the en­vi­ron­ment. He said it’s like a can­cer that keeps grow­ing and grow­ing and you don’t re­alise it, but one day it will be too late.

Dicaprio is a good am­bas­sador of the cause, he said, be­cause of his fame and be­cause he is ar­tic­u­late, ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent and be­cause of his im­pres­sive anal­y­sis. He looks at things very prag­mat­i­cally––bril­liant, ac­tu­ally.

“But fun­da­men­tally, the cause needs ev­ery­one. Be­cause it’s ev­ery­body do­ing small things that will save the planet, not a few peo­ple do­ing big things.”

I be­came in­trigued by the idea of the small things. Gathy replied by giv­ing the ex­am­ple of when we use the small but­ton on the toi­let in­stead of the big but­ton. The large but­ton uses 10 litres of wa­ter and the small but­ton only uses 4 litres. Ev­ery time we can save 6 litres mul­ti­plied by twenty-mil­lion peo­ple, we save 120 mil­lion litres of wa­ter.

Also, the treat­ment of wa­ter is a player. Ev­ery time a guest takes a shower, it is op­er­a­tion wa­ter now, in­stead of wasted. All the wa­ter is reused for the land­scape. Not used for your next shower, he said, but don’t worry he as­sured me that will hap­pen, it is only a mat­ter of time.

“It is the small creek which makes big rivers. We must be re­spon­si­ble, all of us, for the fu­ture of our planet. We must make an ef­fort in our own world––teach­ing our chil­dren mak­ing small im­pacts our­selves, ev­ery day. You can say what­ever you want but in 20 or 30 or 50 years we will have big prob­lems. Big. And it is ir­re­versible. You can’t go back.”

He im­pas­sion­ately spoke, warn­ing that the other con­cerns in the world are bat­tles, but sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment is the war. He im­plored that we can­not af­ford to lose this war. We have to win.

At the re­sort in Belize Gathy and Dicaprio are go­ing to bat­tle by in­cor­po­rat­ing all tech­nol­ogy that is avail­able to­day to this ef­fect. They are hop­ing to make the re­sort en­tirely self-suf­fi­cient in terms of en­ergy. Ex­am­ples in­clude re­cy­cling all the waste, us­ing all nec­es­sary ma­te­ri­als to ab­sorb the heat of the sun to pro­duce elec­tric­ity like so­lar roof tiles, and build­ing with re­cy­cled tim­ber.

In­spired by his passion for green de­sign, I rounded out our time to­gether by ask­ing if he could share his pas­sion­ate picks for the most ro­man­tic des­ti­na­tions in the world. Some of his choices sur­prised.

“Ac­tu­ally I am a fan of the Amer­i­can North­east––western Mas­sachusetts, and ru­ral Ver­mont. I am an ab­so­lute fan of sa­faris in Africa. Africa is magic. It isn’t ro­mance, it is magic. Bhutan, in the Hi­malayas I would say is one of the most ro­man­tic places be­cause it is re­ally the life there that en­chants.”

Other picks in­cluded Venice, Petit Mar­tinique, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand’s South Is­land and Tus­cany.

Great de­sign is not an ad­di­tion of el­e­ments but rather a jux­ta­po­si­tion of el­e­ments.

This Page, from top, Aman New York spa pool; Jean Michel Gathy Op­po­site, Chedi Mus­cat, spa re­lax­ation room

This Page, from top, Che­val Blanc Rand­heli villa in­te­rior; Che­val Blanc Rand­heli Is­land Villa Op­po­site, Chedi Mus­cat Pool side

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