An In­tan­gi­ble Lux­ury

Lim Sio Hui speaks to renowned ar­chi­tect Jean-Michel Gathy and finds out that when it comes to the cre­ation of the world’s most stun­ning lux­ury ho­tels, com­fort comes first.

Pinnacle (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Rolls-Royce Mo­tor Cars Re­gional Di­rec­tor Paul Har­ris talks about the im­por­tance of time.

“Is the Rolls-Royce about the head­lights, or the seat you’re driv­ing in?”

Ar­chi­tect Jean-Michel Gathy is mus­ing about ho­tel de­sign, or more specif­i­cally, about the se­cret be­hind his firm’s award-win­ning projects.

“It’s the whole thing,” the Bel­gian replies. “A ho­tel is like a Rolls-Royce – it has to be all-rounded and seam­less.”

Based in Asia for most of his pro­fes­sional life, the 57-year-old is the brains be­hind Den­nis­ton, an ar­chi­tec­ture firm re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing some of the world’s most renowned lux­ury ho­tels. Whether it’s his Aman-branded re­treats in ex­otic des­ti­na­tions such as In­dia’s Ra­jasthan Na­tional Park or LVMH Moet Hennessy - Louis Vuit­ton’s up­com­ing Cheval Blanc Rand­heli re­sort in the Mal­dives, he be­lieves that the suc­cess of his ho­tels is de­rived from the way ev­ery el­e­ment of the de­sign is in har­mony with the oth­ers.

“All our con­tracts state that we will do the ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­rior, and land­scape,” ex­plains Gathy. “You will never feel that the con­for­ma­tion of the win­dows does not match the fa­cade, or that the swim­ming pool is not easy to ac­cess from the bed­room. We seam­lessly re­late things.”

Look­ing at his stilted vil­las, strung dis­creetly along the co­ral atolls, la­goons and pri­vate beaches of One&Only Reethi Rah in the Mal­dives, or the mag­nif­i­cently perched monas­tic de­sign of the St Regis Lhasa Re­sort, you be­gin to un­der­stand Gathy’s magic, which stems from a re­spect for the site. “If you’re on the lake, I’ll give you the view of the lake. If you’re on the moun­tain, I’ll face the sun, be­cause it’s cold,” he shares. “The most fun­da­men­tal point is to be ap­pro­pri­ate to the site and make the guest com­fort­able.”

Gathy re­cently launched two Aman ho­tels – the Aman Canal Grande, a her­itage-listed re­stored palazzo on Venice’s prime wa­ter­way, and Amanoi, a mas­sive project span­ning 40 hectares in the moun­tains close to the sea in Vinh Hy, Viet­nam. While the two projects are on op­po­site ends of the style spec­trum, there’s one sig­na­ture trait that is eas­ily recog­nis­able – a care­fully or­ches­trated bal­ance in each space.

“I be­lieve that be­ing in­ten­tion­ally chaotic in a de­sign is un­pleas­ant.You see a ge­om­e­try, an axis, a phys­i­cal bal­ance: like the Champs-El­y­sees, the Egyp­tian pyra­mids, or the Taj Ma­hal – my projects are like that.

“Of­ten, when some­body says, ‘this is beau­ti­ful,’ you don’t know why – it just looks good,” pro­poses Gathy. “Ac­tu­ally, it’s be­cause it’s bal­anced. When some­thing is bal­anced, it is al­ways more pleas­ant and peace­ful.”

Gathy would know. Af­ter all, he has 50 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the study of travel and ar­chi­tec­ture. At the age of seven, he was al­ready sav­ing up his weekly al­lowance to in­dulge his pas­sion for see­ing the world, al­beit through the study of maps.

He says, “I would study a coun­try from an at­las all week – the names of the cities, the num­ber

of people liv­ing in the cities, the high­est moun­tains, the roads; the names of the har­bours, rivers and gorges. Then on Fri­day, I would take the money I have saved, and buy ‘blind’ maps of the world, and test my­self by fill­ing in the blanks.”

Later, af­ter his par­ents found out about his se­cret hobby, Gathy was tasked to or­gan­ise fam­ily hol­i­days. At just 10 years of age, he be­came the fam­ily’s nav­i­ga­tor and tour guide for the first time. He stud­ied road maps and or­gan­ised vis­its to a cathe­dral, a cas­tle and other her­itage build­ings, and re­counted each lo­ca­tion’s his­tory to his fam­ily. “That’s what gave me the love of ar­chi­tec­ture and trav­el­ling,” re­calls Gathy. Pow­ered by Gathy’s love for his job, it is no won­der that Den­nis­ton is a world leader in ho­tel de­sign to­day.

“We win ev­ery fa­mous com­mis­sion, not be­cause we’re smarter or bet­ter,” he shares. “Ba­si­cally, I have been ac­cu­mu­lat­ing knowl­edge since I was seven years old. It has been my life.”


03 01 The liv­ing room of a villa at the Cheval Blanc Rand­heli in the Mal­dives.

05 02 & 03 There is a sense of seren­ity at the St Regis Lhasa Re­sor t, built high in the moun­tains of Ti­bet. 04 Jean-Michel Gathy says his love for trav­el­ling and ar­chi­tec­ture has been a life-long af­fair. 05 En­joy a su­per-exclusive get­away at One&Only Reethi Rah in the Mal­dives.



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