Robert Sawatzky
Apr 27, 2018

Architect Jean-Michel Gathy on designing bespoke luxury event spaces

"We’re not designing convention centres, we’re planning hotels which have smaller venues for first-class events."

Jean Michel Gathy
Jean Michel Gathy

Volume and scale do not come across as favourite words in Jean-Michel Gathy's vocabulary. It's not that the principal designer of Kuala Lumpur-based architectural firm Denniston shies away from large projects. 

Indeed, its portfolio includes work on some towering hotels and giant resorts like Singapore's Marina Bay Sands (the rooftop infinity pool) and the Bellagio Mumbai alongside design projects for Amanresorts, St. Regis, Banyan Tree, Cheval Blanc among so many others.

But the renowned architect behind many of the world's exclusive luxury resorts seems to revel in celebrating spaces for more intimate gatherings. CEI Asia spoke to Gathy about the nature of event spaces at his resort projects.

One & Only Reethi-Rah, Maldives

When designing luxury resorts, are event spaces a high priority?

There are two types of properties where you stage events. There’s the type where you have 3,000 people coming for a product launch where you need 3,000 rooms and massive ballrooms. This type of event is one for which I don’t design.

The hotels we do are much smaller in size, 50 to 100 rooms. The size of our hotels will determine the type of event. An event at our hotel would be a more sophisticated type of event like jewelry exhibitions or VIP anniversaries. 

I’ve never been asked to design a first-class hotel because we want to entertain events. No. They say I want you design the best five-star hotel in the Maldives or in Japan. 

Our biggest brief would be room rates and F&B. Then they’re going to say since we have that, we could have a fabulous party for Cartier. That becomes an addition. And you know you’re going to be asked this so you always prepare for this occurrance. You will have fantastic outdoor and indoor spaces.

We’re not designing convention centres, we’re planning hotels which have smaller venues for first-class events. It’s a fundamental difference. If you build a Marriott or Hilton or Shangri-La, you design them around the income for functions.

Some have more income from function rooms than room income. It’s a massive function, they’re designed for that and brilliantly designed. But it’s not what you [think about] when you design a 50-room hotel.

St. Regis, Lhasa

So what’s the secret to planning event spaces at more exclusive hotels?

Whatever you design relates to your market and therefore is designed differently. When we design, everything is taken into consideration. How many people are going to sit, how many people are going to be at the bar.

We pay a lot of attention to the function room. But not the same attention. You use creativity. We have to design space and volumes to be flexible. That allows you to be flexible with clientele, arrangement of displays, spread of food and beverage. 

A space to accommodate 100 to 200 people is not that big. You can easily put up temporary screens you can easily control noise and music. 

At the Shangri-La or big hotels, food and beverage rooms are linked to function rooms and all on one floor. You can make as much noise as you want. When in a first class or boutique hotel, you can’t do this because of space. 

Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing

How much of environmental design makes a real impact and how much is largely for show?

Ten years ago, an architect or designer would brag about being green. It was fashionable to say ’I’m a green architect.’ Ninety percent of it was just bullshit. They would use one or two solar panels and think they’re green.

Happily for the world, this has changed completely. Nowadays, most city and village administrations have become green in their codes. And since architects have to follow the codes, without having to brag about it, the projects are becoming greener and greener. Not because of ego, but because of code.

That’s the good news. It’s not architect XYZ thinking he’s a star for recycling dirty water--he now has no choice. The bragging rights of being a green architect are gone.

What the public doesn’t know is that technology has allowed the industry to create products that 100% look like wood but are ceramic, look like leather but are PVC. It’s amazing. 

We will start to end the depleting of quarries and forests exponentially. Much of the stone I used to use has been replaced with ceramic tiles. Much of the wood we used to use before has been replaced by steel or aluminum. I was one of the biggest fans of timber. I barely use timber now. 

Do you have a favourite hotel you’ve designed?

Do you have children? I will never answer the question. All my clients and all my projects I love. 

This interview was edited for clarity.


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