Saturday, February 21, 2009

WOW factor

The design line-up at Capella Singapore will certainly impress with architect Norman Foster's ability to blend traditional design with futuristic elements.

CAPELLA Singapore finally opens its doors to its first paying customers on March 30. This marks the start of what the hotel and its owners hope will be a new chapter in the top end of the local hospitality industry - an establishment that successfully and seamlessly combines Singapore's colonial past with the latest in resort-style accommodation and 'a new standard of luxury'.

Developed at a cost of $400 million by an associate company of the Pontiac Land group and managed by the US-based West Paces Hotel Group, the 111-room Capella Singapore is opening at a difficult time, thanks to the current global economic meltdown. Viewed from a different perspective, however, the hotel - the first in the region for the Capella group - is positioned to take advantage when the market for ultra-luxe hotel properties regains its lustre.

Given its spectacular 30-acre site on a hillside in Sentosa and the fact that every aspect of the hotel's development has been gone over with a fine toothcomb, there is little doubt that Capella Singapore will create a positive buzz when it opens for business at the end of next month. Just to make sure, though, it gave the media an advance look at the property earlier this week.

The design line-up, led by brand name architect Norman Foster, is certainly impressive enough.

The British architect's ability to blend traditional design with futuristic elements has earned him a worldwide reputation, although he has yet to produce an iconic, impact-making building in Singapore along the lines of, say, the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong or the German Parliament Building in Berlin.

There is a definite sense of The Grand Arrival at Capella Singapore. A long driveway leads up a hill and follows its natural contours before ending in front of Tanah Merah, two 19th-century colonial buildings that served as function halls for official British Government events have been meticulously restored to form the reception area of the hotel.

Rather than a conventional hotel lobby, guests will be made to feel as if they have arrived at a large private home. The rooms in Tanah Merah, which means 'Red Earth', are built on an intimate scale and decorated in a neo-colonial style with white-stained ceiling beams, wooden furnishing, grey-veined white marble floors and patterned rugs - somewhat clubby and evoking an unmistakable sense of plush privacy.

A flight of stairs leads from the reception room to a wood-panelled lounge called The Library, for obvious reasons. The overall setting is not as grand as, say, Carcosa Seri Negara - the former British High Commissioner's residence in Kuala Lumpur that was built in the late-19th century and also turned into a luxury hotel - but there are many more layers to Capella Singapore.

For openers, Tanah Merah marks just the start of the Capella experience. Traditional architecture then gives way to the Foster treatment - guests emerge from the colonial-era buildings to find a long, curvilinear roof, linking the existing buildings with an entirely new, low-rise main block that houses the guest rooms. The contemporary shape, reminiscent of the futuristic curves found in several of Foster's projects, looks from above like a large figure eight. The continuous aluminium roof is finished in a dark earth tone, in keeping with the traditional roof tiles on Tanah Merah.

Simultaneously, guests will not fail to notice a panoramic view of tropical greenery, comprising a tree canopy that follows the contours of the site down to the sea, where ships lie at anchor in the distance. The natural topography adds prominence to the main building, which sits atop the site, with rooms, restaurants and other facilities spread over several levels. Top-notch designers hired to decorate individual spaces include Jaya Ibrahim for the guest rooms, Andre Fu for Cassia, the hotel's Chinese restaurant and Koichi Yasuhiro of SPIN for The Knolls, its all-day restaurant.

A three-tiered swimming pool complex (there are another 50 pools throughout) and 38 garden villas are sprinkled over the sloping land, together with a further 82 suites and duplexes intended for long-term guests who will be able to enjoy the benefit of the hotel services along with the main hotel guests. Apart from some villas that appear to be clustered together a little too closely, the Capella evokes a sense of true resort-style luxury - a definite rarity in an urban environment.

A concerted effort has been made to keep the grounds natural, so the landscaping is organic rather than ornamental, with planting intended to affect a paddy-field look in certain sections.

Meanwhile, the overall design look is contemporary, with local touches - materials used in the guest rooms include Burmese teak, dark granite and limestone, while the curved themed extends to the villa roofs and ceilings as well.

A collection of artworks adorn other parts of the site - notable works include a steel installation on the lawn fronting Tanah Merah, an installation by Japanese artist Tomoko Sawada and a glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling of the uniquely circular, glass-domed ballroom.

Hotel rack rates start at $660 while villas are priced between $1,800 and $7,500. Rooms are uniformly spacious, ranging from 77 square metres for a deluxe room with a large picture window.

The presidential suite, known as the Capella Manor, comprises three bedrooms and 4,000 square feet of space.

Rates for the long-stay accommodation will be individually priced, depending on the view, says Capella Singapore's general manager Michael Luible. 'Among affluent travellers who have houses and yachts around the world, the problem is who looks after them?' says Mr Luible. 'We take all these problems away and market the homes under the Capella umbrella.'

He adds, 'It's all about privacy and space and creating a certain word of mouth. We are offering a resort lifestyle and hopefully, we will deliver a 'wow' experience.'

Source: Business Times - 21 Feb 2009

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