The mall artist

Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect dar­ryl ya­mamoto shares de­sign philoso­phies on trans­form­ing spa­ces into re­tail mag­nets.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SPACES - By GRACE CHEN star2thes­

IN his 25 years as an ar­chi­tect, Dar­ryl Ya­mamoto, the prin­ci­pal of US-based DYXY Ar­chi­tec­ture and In­te­ri­ors has per­son­ally seen to the cre­ation of 700,000sqm of re­tail space in the United States, China, Tai­wan, Philip­pines, In­dia and In­done­sia.

In Malaysia, he is credited with the trans­for­ma­tion of Klang Pa­rade, the shop­ping grand dame of Se­lan­gor’s royal town, due for un­veil­ing soon.

Ya­mamoto’s firm will also see to the re­fur­bish­ment of 1 Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh Pa­rade in Perak, both due for com­ple­tion by the first quar­ter of 2014.

But for all his ac­co­lades, the baby-faced Hawai­ian na­tive is stub­bornly re­fus­ing to di­vulge his age, the badge Asians so of­ten as­so­ci­ate with wis­dom.

“Oh, look at the time now,” says Ya­mamoto, feign­ing a busy sched­ule when the age ques­tion was popped.

He dares us to guess. Is he in his late 30s? A hearty laugh. All right then, might he be in his mid-40s? A lit­tle more than that....

Sens­ing the cha­rade is tir­ing his au­di­ence, Ya­mamoto re­lents with an ob­scure clue: “In ar­chi­tec­ture, you don’t get good till you’re 40. That’s when you have ac­quired the lay­ers of ex­pe­ri­ence, learned the rules and codes af­ter many projects,” says Ya­mamoto who was based in the is­land state for 10 years be­fore mov­ing to Los An­ge­les.

He re­calls his first project, a re­sort in Ka­palua, Hawaii, where a pineap­ple plan­ta­tion once stood.

“I had just got out of school (Univer­sity of Hawaii in Manoa), the econ­omy was go­ing crazy and all the se­nior guys were do­ing high rises. That left the smaller guys like us with the smaller projects. I was re­ally lucky be­cause that was where I learned how to do ev­ery­thing,” says Ya­mamoto.

He then worked for RTKL, a global ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban de­sign prac­tice firm, where he sharp­ened his skills as a de­signer for large-scale in­ter­na­tional projects. In 2006, Ya­mamoto es­tab­lished DYXY with a group of part­ners, whom he had been work­ing closely with for a decade.

On what makes his cre­ative juices tick, he quips that work­ing with clients who know what they want is a tremen­dous help. But on a se­ri­ous note, he adds that an open mind makes one a bet­ter re­cep­tor to ideas.

“I usu­ally come with an empty mind for the first recce. The first pri­or­ity is to mark out the prop­erty line, lo­ca­tion and the ge­om­e­try of the site. To be frank, I never know what the fi­nal re­sult is go­ing to be when I start be­cause de­sign­ing is an ever-chang­ing process,” he says.

Chal­lenges will al­ways be part and par­cel of the pro­fes­sion. Ya­mamoto re­calls hav­ing to move a 40-storey tower for a Tai­wan project in 2000 at the be­hest of a feng shui con­sul­tant.

“I don’t re­call the de­tails ex­actly but it had some­thing to do with op­pos­ing Tiger and Dragon forces. For­tu­nately, this was done at the be­gin­ning of the draw­ing phase.

“If we had to do that maybe a year into the project where some 500 mil­lion lines had been drawn, that would have taken a lot more time and cost,” he says.

The Ya­mamoto for­mula for turn­ing spa­ces into re­tail mag­nets lies in the sim­ple rule of bal­ance and cir­cu­la­tion.

A mall should not re­sem­ble a maze where a shop­per can get lost, like the crowded ar­cades of Hong Kong in the 1980s, he says. In the worst case sce­nario, labyrinthine de­signs not only ob­scure re­tail ten­ants from po­ten­tial cus­tomers but may also en­cour­age crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity be­cause of the many hid­den cor­ners.

Ide­ally, there must be clar­ity of space, where a shop­per can take in the dif­fer­ent re­tail­ers at a glance. There should also be a clear de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion when it comes to dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing of­fice blocks, ho­tels, din­ing and shop­ping. Strate­gic plac­ing of es­ca­la­tors is also im­por­tant so peo­ple can pass by ev­ery shop. The idea is to get po­ten­tial cus­tomers pass­ing ev­ery shop’s front door.

En­trances, adds Ya­mamoto, makes for an im­por­tant fea­ture in malls. From ex­pe­ri­ence, most clients pre­fer the main point of en­try to re­sem­ble a big mouth for its aus­pi­cious sym­bol­ism, but log­i­cally they are al­ways lo­cated at the busiest in­ter­sec­tion of a road.

On rare oc­ca­sions should such an en­trance place­ment be seen as bad feng shui, it is still ad­vis­able to have an open air restau­rant and glass walls at the same spot so passers-by are af­forded a glimpse of the ac­tion in­side. And yes, a mall has to be loud. “You must have enough sig­nage to let peo­ple know what’s in­side. Oth­er­wise, it’ll look like an of­fice,” says Ya­mam­ato.

Speak­ing of his Malaysian mis­sion, Ya­mamoto re­veals hav­ing re­ceived an SOS from ARA Man­agers As­set man­age­ment se­nior man­ager June Lim, who had sent him pic­tures of a very run down Klang Pa­rade ear­lier in the year. Then, the oc­cu­pancy rate was only at 50%. They had nei­ther a su­per­mar­ket nor cin­ema and the uri­nal area in the men’s toi­let was sans cu­bi­cles, where only the less shy could seek relief!

In the last year, Lim’s bosses had bought over the age­ing mall, be­stow­ing it with a re­fur­bish­ment bud­get of over RM100mil. Ya­mamoto, fresh from com­plet­ing the Grand In­done­sia Tower in Jakarta, was deemed the most suit­able can­di­date to lead the makeover.

“I started from scratch with Klang Pa­rade from chang­ing the mall con­fig­u­ra­tion to work­ing on the fin­ishes like floor­ing, light­ing and fur­ni­ture,” he says.

As the mall’s aim is to serve res­i­dents within the catch­ment area, Ya­mamoto de­cided on the uni­ver­sal theme of flow­ers and go­ing with a re­fresh­ing flo­ral hibis­cus theme, us­ing pur­ples, blues, and orange shades to evoke vi­brance.

“You can’t be too so­phis­ti­cated when you want to ap­peal to the masses but there will be wa­ter fea­tures, land­scap­ing, a café area and a grand two-storey-high en­trance,” he says.

At Klang Pa­rade, Ya­mamoto’s proud­est fea­tures are the sky­lights, a green light­ing so­lu­tion not only favoured as a cost saver but for its cheer­ing prop­er­ties.

“Peo­ple have a nat­u­ral affin­ity for sun­light,” says Ya­mamoto, ex­plain­ing that he feels noth­ing works bet­ter than a good dose of the sun’s rays to liven things up.

Back in his ho­tel room, Ya­mamoto gives an inkling how deeply con­nected he is to his work. On his bureau are four hand cut mod­els of build­ings he hopes to present to po­ten­tial clients. Among the deals al­ready closed are the Fan­tasy Springs Re­sort in Cal­i­for­nia, Bank of Hawaii Of­fice Tower, Or­chard Boule­vard Con­do­minium in Sin­ga­pore, and the Galaxy In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel and Of­fice project in Shen­zhen, China.

So, has Ya­mamoto ever sat back to gloat over his own work?

“The more you do to fine-tune, the more op­por­tu­nity you have to en­sure shop­pers are happy. When they have a great ex­pe­ri­en­tial el­e­ment when vis­it­ing the mall, they will come back,” says Ya­mamoto, hint­ing that a de­signer’s work is never fin­ished.

But more cru­cially, Ya­mamoto reck­ons his is the role of a ser­vice de­liv­erer. Be it a high rise, re­tail or res­i­den­tial project, he reck­ons it will be his job to do as much as he can, ar­chi­tec­tural-wise, to de­liver suc­cess to the client.

“Ul­ti­mately, an ar­chi­tect’s job is to have peo­ple look at a prop­erty and say, ‘This is beau­ti­ful, I have to have it,” con­cludes Ya­mamoto.

Ar­chi­tec­tural im­ages cour­tesy of Dar­ryl Ya­mamoto.

Let there be light: dar­ryl ya­mamoto is a firm be­liever in let­ting in lash­ings of nat­u­ral light where pos­si­ble. This is one of the build­ings that com­prise the Grand city Surabaya mixed de­vel­op­ment project in In­done­sia that he worked on.

ya­mamoto’s vi­sion for Klang Pa­rade uses the colours of the hibis­cus for vi­brance and in­cludes wa­ter fea­tures, land­scap­ing, a café area and a grand two-storey-high en­trance.

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