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Size matters

by TERESA CHOW on Dec 20, 2011 in Architecture , Interiors
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 In its first mega spa project in China, San Franciso-based SB Architects crafted a complex that synthesises past and present for Mission Hills’ newest spot on Hainan island

San Franciso-based SB Architects, with its extensive experience in multi-family residential and hospitality projects over the past five decades, brought its expertise to the table in crafting the major spa components for Mission Hills Volcanic Mineral Springs & Spa in China’s Hainan island… Naturally, the task was not without its challenges.

First, size. Located on Haikou, on the northern coast of Hainan, the spa complex is set and surrounded by 10 golf courses. Hailed as home to the largest natural springs reserve in the region, the Spa measures an incredible 950,000 sq-ft, embraced by 473,000 sq-ft of landscaped gardens, 168 springs and water features, and treatment venues inspired by the five continents. That’s not to mention the 29 luxurious spa villas for residents and guests seeking longer-term solace. 

SB Architects vice-president/principal Bruce Wright says it was balancing the guest’s needs that drove the concept: “We needed to keep the scale appropriate for the individual user, so that guests feel that even though it is on a massive scale, there is an intimacy that is appropriate.”

Hence, according to Mark Sopp, also VP/principal of SB Architects, personalising the guests’ experience was equally important, to create a journey that will ensure they look forward to their experiences at Mission Hills.

The main spa comprises a soaring, semi-circular bamboo structure, rising from a massive lava stone base that is slightly canted to increase its sense of grandeur. The sense of verticality imposed by the bamboo speaks to the project’s sustainability objectives, while the use of locally-abundant lava stone firmly grounds the design in the nature and topography of Hainan.

“We are literally using stones and bamboo from the site as they’re abundant here,” says Sopp. “In our history of design, we always feel it’s appropriate to create an architectural vocabulary that has roots in the local context so that we can create a project that feels like it belongs to the place.”

Wright adds: “We are trying to use materials that are consistent, so that everything is knitted together telling a similar story.”

In fact, the bamboo used in the long covered spine of the structure is as much to fulfil the aesthetic criteria as the functional aspect. “First, it acts as a connection of the front house to all the amenities within the site; while technical services connections for the back of house that support the project are built underneath,” says Wright.  

Much of the entire project is not air-conditioned. Sopp says Haikou’s climate is favourable to natural ventilation; when it rains, the bamboo spine also acts like an umbrella to cover the walkway. “In this sense, it is a pretty playful design,” he says.

The circular shape of the structure of the spa complex, which features 61 spa treatment suites, takes its design inspiration from the traditional Hakka earthen fortress villages of southern China. “We created a descending experience with reception on the top while treatment rooms below,” says Sopp. “The soft curved form creates the ability to avoid long visual corridors, but rather like disappearing around the corner — the corridor is hence shortened visually, although there are 61 rooms altogether.”

The distinctive communal earthen fortress structures — historically used for defence and communal living — have been recognised by Unesco as World Heritage Sites for their unique contribution to the history of building and human settlement. “Mission Hills wanted to bring the world to China and invites the world to come and visit; through the design, I believe it has achieved this end,” says Wright.

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