Using the theme of a silkworm’s cocoon, HBA London completes a spa by ESPA in the tallest building in Hong Kong
With a location more than 300 metres above the frenetic streets of Hong Kong, hospitality design firm, HBA (Hirsch Bedner Associates), has created an escape from the metropolis, for guests who visit the Ritz-Carlton ESPA in the International Commerce Centre (ICC).
At 484 metres (1,588 feet), it is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the fifth tallest in the world after the Burj Khalifa, Dubai (2,717ft), Abraj Al-Bait Towers, Mecca, Saudi Arabia (1,971ft), Taipei 101, Taiwan (1,670ft) and Shanghai World Financial Centre, China, (1,614ft).
The design firm won the brief through Susan Harmsworth, founder and CEO of ESPA International, after cooperating on a number of spa designs in the past. HBA presented its portfolio to the hotel operations team and owner/developer SHKP (Sun Hung Kai Properties) and won the contract.
The Ritz-Carlton occupies the uppermost 15 levels of ICC and ESPA is located on the 116th and 118th floors.
Inge Moore, principal, HBA London said she was looking for a theme which would ‘evoke feelings of reassurance, shelter and nurturing within the lofty confines of the towering structural envelope’ as a base for his design.
At the same time, she wanted to make the most of the setting and allow guests to simultaneously feel attached to the city with its breathtaking views yet totally insulated from the hustle and bustle below.
To create a sanctuary of softness from the stressful urban surroundings, he came up with the idea of a silkworm’s cocoon. Curved niches, gently diffused lighting and flowing spaces all contribute to a comfortable style, one that feels cosy and inviting, contemporary but not cold.
“The silkworm’s cocoon – a soft, white pillow of delicately spun silk – provided a perfect metaphor and design inspiration for The Ritz-Carlton Spa by ESPA,” said Moore.
“We sought to emulate this place of peaceful, protected transformation by using its physical form and conceptual ideology as a guideline for every design detail in the spa, from the space planning to the materials specified to the lighting scheme.
“As an allusion to the coiled contours of the chrysalis’ woven fibres, “straight” edges have been avoided; for example, the reception desks have an oval outline, changing room benches are styled in kidney-bean shapes, and the corridor and room layouts follow organically curved lines.
The appearance of the finely textured horsehair, which clads some of the walls is a subtle suggestion to the mulberry tree slivers which are naturally embedded in the cocoon.”
HBA also teamed-up with artist, Eva Menz, to create a floating installation crafted from porcelain “butterfly cocoons” that are suspended in strands from the ceiling. Linear LED cone lights have been concealed within the centres of intermittently positioned cocoons so that the source of illumination is not apparent and guests do not experience a harsh glare.
The cabling is integrated into the strands so that it becomes part of the artistry. Above the sculpture, low-voltage downlights create dramatic effects by casting shadows and rays which bounce off the adjacent walls.
Moore said the most challenging part of the design was the fact that there is no ‘view’ to focus on from the window other than the clouds.
“Hong Kong is a vertical city of tall buildings, and the polluted smog which drifts in from the factories at the outskirts of the city is a real problem. Normally this can be seen when one looks onto the horizon, but every now and then the atmospheric conditions clear-up so that all one sees are sunny blue skies and white clouds,” she said.
She added another issue was the low ceiling heights formed by the slab-to-slab construction of the high-rise tower.
“The spa areas comprise one section of the 116th floor, and the club lounge and restaurant form the other parts. And then, on the 118th floor, guests visit the pool and the gym. In between these levels, the 117th floor houses a good deal of the building’s services. So there were many logistics to contend with in the layouts,” she explained.
“A cause for consternation amongst the planning team was how guests would feel being in a space that was so high-up. It was essential they feel secure in a space so far off the ground, so satisfying this concern was an integral aspect of our decision making process.”
The design team wanted to blur the boundary between a monolithic structural envelope and the expansive 360° vista so spa guests could feel “connected” to the city but not “in” it. It chose a colour palette to represent clear blue skies, golden rays of sunlight and the sparkling lights from below.
It had to be meticulous in its planning so that the electrical, plumbing, and lighting layouts were compatible with the plant on the 117th floor. Health and safety was very important, and the designers collaborated carefully with the engineering team to make sure everything would work and create a positive experience for guests.
“As far as logistical or materials-related challenges, the structural design was planned to accommodate the use of our FF&E, and for example, the saunas and jacuzzis on the top floor,” said Moore.
“With such a large tower, everything was transported via the service lifts; it would have been impossible to hoist a crane up to that height, and the glazing was already in place. All the products we specified were well thought out so they were a size that could fit into the lifts and fire-rated.
“We intentionally specified materials that convey a sense of being “grounded”, as seen for example in the bronze metal-infused timber flooring, the substantial felling alabaster reception desks and the manicure station hewn from hardwood solids.
It was important to create a place where the body could “think” and be more powerful than the mind, where guests could have time to decompress and “figure out” elements in their lives that they are often too busy to focus upon.
Therefore we could not design a space that would accost people with its complexity; these functions should always be behind the scenes, because the sight of that stray wire or flashing red light can induce feelings of edginess and weariness.”
The project took 18 months from conception to completion. Moore said working in diverse cultures is so interesting because every culture has a different process for achieving the end result. She would like to do more projects in Asia, as the spa experience is an intrinsic part of its cultural traditions.
“It was a remarkable opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind spa escape at the top of one of the world’s tallest buildings,” she said.
“Luxury is more broadly defined today than ever before, and what is immediately identified as a luxurious environment in LA is different than one in London or that along the Mediterranean Coast.
But what people do want in many instances is something original and authentic; so what this means is that there is more scope than ever before to envision narrative work afresh, to garner ideas from the site’s location and even borrow inspiration from one part of the world that is right for a project in another part.
Today, the creators of luxury spaces need to travel extensively and keep their senses open to the world wherever they visit.”
HBA London is currently working on the Westhofen Spa and Resort in Frankfurt and designing a signature spa at the Raffles Istanbul Zorlu Centre.