A Singapore Resort by Michael Graves

Places / January 19, 2011

Last year, on the northeast corner of Sentosa Island, just off the southern coast of Singapore,  Michael Graves & Associates completed construction on the first phase of a master plan and design for Resorts World Sentosa. 

The $3.6 billion project includes a Universal Studios Theme Park (not designed by Graves), six hotels, a 15,000-square-meter casino, a convention center with conference and meeting facilities, theaters and entertainment facilities, a maritime museum, retail stores and restaurants, and a world-class spa.

Earlier this week, A+A talked with Michael Graves and Patrick Burke, principal-in-charge of Resorts World Sentosa for Michael Graves & Associates, regarding this monumental project.  We’ve broken the interview into two Q+A segments.  The first is below, and the second will post tomorrow.

What attracted you to compete for the Resorts World Sentosa project?

Patrick Burke: We were intrigued with the design challenge of a large and prestigious project with so many uses that would be densely organized on the site and yet maintain the sense of being on a resort island.

Michael Graves: We had worked in Asia over many years and were attracted by the prospect of working in Singapore. Years ago, I had played golf on the island of Sentosa and had good memories of the place. It has truly been a pleasure to work there.

What sort of challenges were faced in terms of construction and design for the site, given its vastness?

Patrick Burke: The project is both large and very dense. It contains two below-grade levels going down approximately 15 meters below sea level, which accommodate parking, transportation hubs, service and infrastructure. The technical design of these below-grade facilities was a significant challenge and enormously complicated to coordinate with the above-ground facilities. The fast-paced construction schedule meant that the structure and systems for the above-ground facilities that we were designing needed to become fixed in location quickly so as not to conflict with the lower levels that our associated architect in Singapore, DP Architects, were designing. The speed of the project created a need to balance many design and construction issues simultaneously.

Another major issue for construction was that the tightness of the site allowed very little space for staging and circulation during the construction process. This eventually led to postponing the construction of the less dense west zone so that its area could be used for staging the construction of the central zone, where most of the resort activities take place.      

Was there an over-riding design ethos for the project? While each property within RWS fulfils a different function or purpose, did you feel that it was important for there to be some sort of unifying design ‘theme’?

Patrick Burke and Michael Graves: The island of Sentosa had traditionally been used for outdoor recreation and the site featured both a waterfront and a backdrop of a lush tropical forest. We thought it was important to integrate the architecture and the landscape to give Resorts World a sense of place that is unique to its site, climate and its location along the water. Its character would therefore be very different from the other integrated resort in Singapore that is adjacent to the central business district.

Throughout the resort’s public outdoor spaces, we created canopies and eco-cooled spaces that protect visitors from the elements but preserve the feeling of being outside. The landscape design, particularly in the courtyards of the Festive and the Hard Rock Hotels, as well as in the marine life park, reinforces this atmosphere and the history of Sentosa.

The character of the architecture, with the use of natural materials and warm colors continues the association with the landscape. Again, in contrast to the downtown casino development, we decided not to make a single large structure but rather broke down the scale of the resort into smaller components, creating a village-like atmosphere that encourages being outdoors. We deliberately kept the character of the exterior architecture relatively unified to emphasize the sense of place, but created a lot of variety in the interior spaces that reflected the many diverse activities as well as the different audiences that RWS will attract.     

What are some of the design elements aiming to create a sense of fun for visitors?

Patrick Burke: As we mentioned, we created many different experiences on the interiors of the buildings – in the guestrooms, the public spaces and the F&B outlets. Many are bright and colourful and reflect the energy and excitement that the resort conveys. This is certainly true of the casino and its restaurants, but also characteristic of hotels like the Festive Hotel and the Hotel Michael. For example, the lobby of the aptly named Festive Hotel contains large colourful lanterns that lead visitors up to a second floor Brazilian restaurant. The brightly coloured Festive Hotel guestrooms are designed to be fun for families with a loft bed for the children and a separate sleeping area for the parents with oversized representations of orchids, the national flower of Singapore.  

The exterior experience of Resorts World Sentosa also contains bright, cheerful and colourful elements, particularly along the pedestrian routes that weave throughout the resort, as well as in the water features. And since Resorts World is an entertainment destination with many night time activities, we thought that dramatic night lighting would be very important, both for the image of the resort as seen from the main island of Singapore and for the visitors to the site.

What would you say the biggest challenge was – the sheer size of the development as a whole, for example? Or perhaps addressing the eco/sustainability elements required?

Patrick Burke: Actually, the biggest challenge was the speed at which the project proceeded. The Central Zone, which features four of the six hotels, the casino, a major theatre, a ballroom and convention complex, the entrance to the Universal Studios theme park, and lots of retail and outdoor recreational space, was completed in three years from design to opening. To produce, at the same time, the large volume of facilities with such variety, and to coordinate design and construction simultaneously, meant an intense and fast-paced work experience. With the 12- to13-hour time difference between our offices near New York and DPA’s offices in Singapore, we were able to serve the project around the clock throughout its entire duration.  

Tomorrow:  Sustainability, environmental sensitivity and a hotel named for the architect.

For more on Michael Graves & Associates, go to http://www.michaelgraves.com/

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Mike Welton

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