Hotels in Relation to Tourism and Conservation/ Use of Local Materials

Disk 16

The genesis of modern buildings started when man first sought shelter from the elements by building a roof over his head. When he felt threatened by animals or other adversaries, he either raised his shelter to above ground or built a wall around the roof which sheltered him. Essentially the primitive home developed from this simplistic approach to that which now exist in the modern ‘smart’ homes, operated and controlled by comprehensively programmed computers.

Culturally when a society have mastered the art of building the simple house, they proceed to build bigger buildings, halls commercial houses and houses of worship, etc. as their wealth and level of sophistication increases so did their structures they became bigger and better. Traditionally God-fearing, these people paid homage to the Creator by always building the most outstanding structure in order to appease Him. Some of these structures are awe inspiring even in to-day’s context. Religious buildings brought out the best of the philanthropists and artisans of that period.

Values shift. Today’s world, commercialism is the ‘invisible’ God to almost everyone. Buildings are built for investment returns. The commandments set out that if the profit margin is too low, it is bad business and ought not to be pursued. Many good projects have been shelved or abandoned for just that reason. Many adaptive reuse projects are put aside when the estimated restoration cost is projected as more expensive than a complete new building. It is therefore heartening to learn that the Architects for Hotel Sofitel, Hua-Hin, found this not to be the case and this project ought to serve as model for other conservation projects.

Until recently, tourism was centered at the European arena. It is now no longer true. Developing countries sensing the money earner that tourism is have started to cash in and to draw some of the tourist away from the traditional stomping grounds. With the traditional tourist centers losing some its lustre, many are turning to the ‘exotic’ and ‘unexplored’. Where previously the European attractions were centered on antiquities and castles, cheaper airfares and economy packaging have brought the exotic and balmy tropical nights closer to the inhabitants of the temperate regions. To culminate ones cheap holiday to the tropics and the exotic East with a bargain-sale through the bazaars of competing Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese electronic goods is an attraction may find difficult to resist.

Hong Kong and Singapore had been the two major havens and airline centers where most tourist must past thought to and from the Orient. Everything in Hong Kong and Singapore is ‘souped’ up for the tourist. Others in Asia have followed suit. From the moment one steps off the aircraft, the tourist is provided with prefere;ntial treatment and pampered all the way.

The governments of these regions have one after another declared their countries’ “tourism year” with promises of ;much attractions to please the salivating taste of the diversity-eager tourist. The tourist dollar has become very important. :National Governments are taking active part directly or indirectly through government agencies to invest in tourist orientated projects e.g. building of resort projects and hotels. Entrepreneurs having to compete with the public sector interest often have to ‘out do’ and ‘over do’ some of these projects, that with cost-over-runs they invariably bankrupt themselves.

Architects are also busy, ever eager to please and running their projects without pausing to evaluate the situation. Hong Kong and Singapore have hotels of all shapes and sizes, poorly articulated and copied from glossy magazines as a passing fad, in the believe that this is what the tourist wants. This is no different to the Medieval period when the people were competing with each other to build the largest and tallest churches in order to appease their God. Then, they were augering for pride and pleasing the Supreme Being; now the architects and their clients are aiming to please the ‘god’ who will bestow his wealth upon the institution which they elect to grace. Hotels become symbolism of the churches and places of worship, where the more out going they are, the more likely they are to succeed. Hotels are therefore designed with some theme to draw the tourist whilst hoping that their sheet size, opulence and often over-gaudy interiors are sufficient. However, costly projects do not guarantee higher returns. Conversely may be true. A well-thought-out, sensitive and sensible project will invariably produce better results. Some of the more successful hotel projects had been those which were conservation and part adaptive re-use type. They possess character and essence, which new hotels built along the glitzy American models, lack.

The traditional tourists had changed. He is no longer the well-to-do, semi-retired professional or businessman on a world trip and expecting the best of everything without a thought of cost. Gone are the days of the P & O liners with is “maharajah” services, which plied the American, Oriental and Oceanic routes. With the advent of flying made more economical with the wide-bodied aircrafts the ordinary tourist is different today. Most tourists these click here days are young professionals eager to study and learn whilst touring, on a tight budget, brought in by any agency which offered the best bargain from their village. These tourists will enjoy the magnificent edifices of the great hotels, but are unable to pay for the tariffs asked. What is required are simple accomodation, clean, comfortable and well – run. Striking a well-balanced project for the tourist industry becomes even more difficult with competition which exist today.

Diverse national groups engaged in the tourism industry are concerned at projecting a national image to the visitors. The projected image takes off from the supposed zenith of their cultural best which exist in their country. Architectural interpretations are varied and diversified providing interest and contrast. Nevertheless many such attempts end up being “pastiche” or “kitsch”. There are, of course, been successful attempts at interpretation of the local idiom and cultural spirit in many hotels built. An excellent example which comes readily to mind are the Tanjong Jara and Rantau Abang Resort villages which the Aga Khan Award 198(?) There was a sincere, sensitive and serious attempt at studying the various cultural aspects of the people, way of life, recognizing the environmental balance, building technique, availability of local building materials and employing the available skills of local craftsmen and artisans. These are just some of the important ingredients for making a Hotel resort project successful architecturally. Tourist would leave with a feeling that they had been through a cultural experience. They feel satisfied. An experience to be cherished and rememvered – including the occasional ‘non-malarial’ mosquito bite. The occasional tourist taken by crocodile has also contributed towards promoting tourism. The Australian had capitalized on this and on the success of the outrageous movie “Crocodile Dundee”. They have turned the wasteland of Northern Territory into a tourist paradise replacing the kangaroo with the crocodile as its symbol and mascot. Which only goes to prove that when one put one’s mind to it, one can market anything to attract and satisfy the tourist.

The eight Hotel./Resort projects featured in this issue are diverse and of wide interest, stretching across the African continent, Indian sub-continent, Asian mainland and S.E. Asian islands. Their variety and contrast are distinct. The underlining consistency being emphasis on the traditional forms and local craftsmanship; and the portrayal of the vernacular. Conservation and restoration of existing structure with adaptive remodeling were also successfully interpreted in Hotel Sofitel and Grand Hotel Preaner. The awareness and awakening among developers towards traditionalism and vernacularism of the context of their projects demonstrate sensitivity and deserve commendation. Their selection and choice of architects for these various projects seemed to have paid off. Here the “kudos” stops.

One puzzles at the fact that almost all projects have foreign architects as their main inceptiors. Is it because foreign architects are better perceivers of local traditions, culture and vernacularism? Or are the local architects (most of whom were probably trained overseas), still too busy trying to understand the latest architecturalism in the West that they are unable to see or appreciate their own architectural heritage as of any significance? Most work produced by local architects seem to reflect very little of their own cultural context. This is a problem faced not only by a particular country but an ever existing problem in all developing countries. Architects seem to lack confidence and pride in their own local craft and built forms. Many also tend to tatally disregard the natural environment when they build. Chop, cut and fill appear to be the norm.

Many urban related resort hotels do not reflect any local flavour. Instead they strife for the sleek corporate hotel image. Singapore’s Orchard Road and Marina Center are examples of probably the worst in the lack of sensitivity and response to local cultural context and tradition. This, however, is again debastable. Singapore is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis and therefore ought to project an international image! Be that as it may.

Siting of a project has a major part to play towards making it look good and project an aura mystique. The use of traditional building technique and local building materials further enhances their quality. This fecund crop of Hotels are successful. They have considered and taken cognizance of local conditions, that the architects of the Grand Hotel Preaner restoration should use ceiling fans in the public spaces in order “to maintain the old ambience” is an example of a sensitive attempt to adapt to local climatic constraints.

The next time another crop of Resorts/Hotels is featured in Mimar, it is hoped that there will be more examples of projects of equal standing, but with more local architectural input. Local architects from the various countries ought to make a positive response to the challenges handed out by these examples. A positive response will show maturity and development in their work and direction of the profession within their country. Until this is done, all major works will continue to be dominated by foreign based consultants.

Jimmy CS Lim