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Leisure and Luxury in Asia

The Sime Darby Transit Oriented Developmentin Selangor, Malaysia. Image © Gensler

We recently spoke with Michael Wiener, director of Gensler Singapore’s Operations, about luxury and leisure in Asia. Wiener opened Gensler’s Singapore office in 2009, and he has subsequently grown both our presence and portfolio in Southeast Asia.

We are looking at how global trends in leisure are dovetailing through the work of Gensler, but with local influences—preferences, expectations, traditions, or even climate or geography. How important do you think these factors are?

They’re absolutely crucial. I think people either miss or discount local influences; you'd be surprised how much they affect people's decisions here.

Luxury is a prevalent theme throughout Asia. Today luxury is as much about choice as it is about the classic trappings of a five star experience. It is much more about your terms, what you want and how and when you want to do it. It is about convenience, time and personalization. Sometimes we want things to be more downscale – still well turned out, of course, but the point is, the choice of having what you want, precisely when you want it is luxury. It isn’t always about having Lobster Thermidor in the first class cabin. For some, it is the ability to have a simple Cup Noodles instead, while still sitting in Suites Class.

The Grand Hyatt Lobby in Incheon, Seoul. Image © Gensler

Can you give me some examples of projects that you have worked on that were specific to their location?

We are building a luxury hotel development in Bali with the idea of getting away from the typical Bali beach resort to create the experience of rediscovering Bali from the beginning, to celebrate the simplicity of the island, and what was so great about Bali in its early days, without mimicking what everyone else seems to be doing there—dark wood, white linen and shadows. Especially for those people exposed to luxury regularly, they often go to beaches with a more relaxed, unrefined take on the world, but at the same time, they expect luxury and quality. Luxury here is being defined by privacy, access to scarce resources, and a unique site, in contrast to the more blatant luxury at the mass beach resorts in Bali and Asia more broadly.

In conjunction with Gensler’s London office, we are doing a high-rise condo tower in Jakarta for ultra-high net worth individuals. That project has really been defined by Indonesian culture and family values, and by the idea of luxury that many owners have experienced overseas – high quality craftsmanship, convenience and choice, coupled with space. The more you pack in to any single condo, the more you eat away at the luxury—the garden and the space—so that soon it takes on the feel like the rest of Jakarta. Our strategy is to compensate for that density with other, equally desirable qualities.

I recently gave the keynote address at a conference on mixed-use developments. My whole presentation was called "The Glue and the Magnet of Mixed-Use Projects”—the so-called negative spaces that are often overlooked because they don't directly earn revenue. But in fact, they are often what draws the people to a site: It's the glue that holds all these disparate activities together, and it's the magnet that draws and holds people to that site. Rockefeller Center is a great example. If you take away the public spaces, it would really just be a collection of office buildings. But because of the negative spaces they have created and the activities that keep people coming back, they've now created a legendry place—but its mythology is much stronger because of the so-called negative space.

The Rajawali Four Seasons Hotel and Residencies in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image © Gensler

Yukiko Kawazoe mentioned the premium on rooftop spaces in Tokyo, where you can actually breathe and stretch out, and how coveted they are for restaurants and bars. Is this typical in Singapore?

That's typical in most cities. We give up a lot to get something back that we think is worth it, but that access comes with a price—the density and frustration of those conditions. Higher spaces allow you to get above and beyond and out of that for a little while. It also helps to get a sense of your place in the city, where you can think, “I'm part of this bigger thing," as opposed to just down on the ground level where you feel like you're being crushed by that bigger thing.

But one of the things you get back from the density can be the right mix, incredible variety and texture. How do you see that balance playing out in the places you’ve worked?

Yes. Some cities have recognized their lively public realm, taken steps to protect and strengthen it, and have done well. Others that have lost it have not done so well. And some have lost it, but have sought to reclaim it, maybe too late. I would put Singapore in that third category, where they have understood what they were losing in the process of redevelopment, and have been taking strong steps to reclaim it, to the point the government is now almost forcing certain cool things, like pop-ups.

But the demolition of what are seen as old, inadequate and unsanitary neighborhoods is not a new story. It has probably happened in every country in the world, starting with the Sixtus redesign of Rome to make it more impressive. So it’s not new, but you then have to wonder: has anyone learned anything along the way?

This article is an extension of an interview conducted by Sarah Amelar for Dialogue 26, “World of Leisure: Asia + Australia.” Amelar writes for Dwell, Architectural Record, and the New York Times.

Michael Wiener is a the director of operations in Gensler's Singapore office. Contact him at michael_wiener@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (2)

What a wonderful Hotel, it’s now in my dreams to live there for just one day... Truly, this is an amazing image of engineering and creativity.
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