Fanciful splendour in Saigon

12 Sep 2015
7 min read
With the recent opening of the new Reverie Saigon hotel in Vietnam, FOUR speaks to Chief Architect, Kent Lui, infamous for past projects including Hong Kong’s International Airport and the city’s iconic HSBC tower, to find out where he finds his inspiration and what it means to be quintessentially Vietnamese.

What was the inspiration and vision behind The Reverie Saigon?

The inspiration behind this project was to present travellers with an experience that they would have thought they could only dream of…until they step into The Reverie Saigon and encounter spaces that ignite and excite their imaginations. The vision was to achieve this by designing a sky-high palatial retreat in the increasingly vertical city that is ever-evolving Saigon and have it rise far above everything else – in both height and quality. In French, the verb ‘rêver’ actually means ‘to dream’. And so just as dreams are left to those who have them to interpret however they wish, it is our intent to present travellers with the absolute best hospitality that we believe we can offer (in product and service) – based on what we’ve ‘dreamt up’ for this hotel and guests’ experiences of it and of Saigon – and leave the rest to them to make of it all whatever they wish. Every travel experience is not ever exactly like any other, after all. Each person takes away from their exploration of the world their own unique perspectives and to that end, whatever their experiences are like while at The Reverie Saigon and whatever memories they conjure up of their time in the city can really only be hindered by the limitations of their imaginations.

How long did it take to bring this project from concept to completion?

The Times Square building was always intended to be a mixed-use development where premium office spaces, high-end retail outposts, luxury apartments and the most extravagant hospitality experience in Vietnam would seamlessly come together as a new landmark for the city – with The Reverie Saigon as the crowning achievement of a project which took nearly seven years to bring to life.

So how would you describe the design style & concept for The Reverie Saigon?

The overarching design approach was to create spaces that would exude a contemporary luxury defined by unreserved grandeur – generous in splendour every which way you turn. A fanciful, classically inspired splendour unlike any that even the worldliest travellers have ever encountered. The design is bold and its approach sophisticated. Its extravagance and splendour captivates because the hotel really does present a design experience like no other. This was very deliberate on our part, as from the very beginning, we set out to be a trendsetter rather than a trend follower. Unlike conventional hotel blueprints, ours was never limited by preconceived designs and concepts. The idea was to deliver a delightfully outside-of-the-box experience. It’s meant to be opulent and extravagant – and unapologetically so.

Specifically in regards to your role, how did it all begin?

Well, for architects, it always starts off with the ‘bones’ – the ‘skeleton’, if you will. Only once the framework and supporting foundation of a structure is in place do we begin to work on the interiors. Although the hotel’s interiors are classically inspired, we designed a modern façade because it needed to be outstanding not only in form, but also in function. With the aim being to make the building a very visible landmark in the city, we opted for an all-glass façade that could be integrated with a sophisticated light projection system capable of illuminating the building’s exterior in such a way that an entire light show extravaganza could be put on without ever disturbing those residing within.

Just as its namesake is, indisputably, an iconic world landmark that attracts the attention of masses with its extraordinary light displays in the heart of Manhattan, so too is Saigon’s Times Square intended to draw people to it, particularly during key events in the city – such as the New Year’s Eve countdown. This is also why there’s an exquisite, larger-than-life clock custom-made by the Florentine company Baldi as one of the conversations pieces on the hotel’s 7th floor lobby – because the name of the building is Times Square, after all.

What were the biggest challenges that you faced while designing the space?

The challenge was in determining how to best erect a mixed-use development intended to be a redefining new landmark on what is a mere 5,000 square metres of land – which, most would likely agree, is otherwise rather restrictive in size. And particularly with a mixed-use development project this ambitious in scope, the challenge was in how to optimise every space for their respective functions – many of which are distinctly different from one another (i.e. hotel vs. offices vs. retail space vs. apartments) – while still achieving perfect harmony between them. And all based on unparalleled luxury standards for Vietnam, too.

What kind of reaction do you hope guests will have to the hotel’s unique interiors? And what do you hope guests’ experience will be like while there?

Constant amazement and surprise at every turn as they wander about the hotel – surprise not only from the whimsical decorative pieces that were purposefully installed throughout its various spaces, but also amusement brought on by surprise at their own reaction to it all. Some guests absolutely love the hotel because of how different it is, much to their own surprise. At first sight, they’re often taken aback by just how much it’s unlike anything they’ve seen before…only to realise moments later that they actually quite like it for that very reason. From the very beginning we had set out to deliberately break the mould of conventional hotel design and present travellers with a design experience unlike any they have in their own living spaces because isn’t that really the point of travelling – to experience the new and entirely different vs. much of the same?

That’s why so many of the decorative pieces and design elements come with such a ‘wow’ factor, because that was the intended effect – to give guests the opportunity to experience and enjoy some of the most interesting, most unique interior décor that they’ve ever come across – including masterpieces and eccentricities that they would otherwise not necessarily have in their homes. Take the conversation piece that is the grandiose sofa on the 7th floor lobby, for example. It comes from Colombostile’s Esmeralda line of masterpiece works – with ours being outfitted in a regal purple ostrich with striking gold leaf trim. It’s the only one of its kind in the world. There’s also the one-of-a-kind Bechstein grand piano dating back to 1895 that has been reimagined and transformed by Baldi into an opulent piece of art, with its veneer made of a striking ‘Russian mosaic’ of precious malachite stone and accented with gilded bronze. And then there’s the backlit golden agate fossil stone that line the guest elevators, flanked by sleek, stencilled steel. Nothing is ordinary here and that was the idea.

The Times Square building was designed to be a modern masterpiece for Ho Chi Minh City – a distinctive new landmark signalling Vietnam’s continued advancement. And within it is an exquisite hotel showcasing some of the best craftsmanship and artistry the world over. Largely, the most notable of Italian brands – both those long-established over generations as well as younger, more contemporary brands. The spaces are ‘couture’ – not conventional. Not unlike how high-end retail boutiques showcase the world’s best in fashion design and artistry within interiors that are incredible to experience in and of themselves. Combined with an enviable address, a lofty perch, aerie spaces and captivating views, our ‘couture’ approach offers travellers an experience truly unlike any other.

What are some of your favourite areas of the hotel and why?

I especially love the sky lobby on the 7th floor because it’s the most iconic space in the entire building. Its spatial arrangement, combined with the 6th floor dining and recreation areas that it overlooks, perfectly suits the lofty space’s various intended functions because in that one space alone we are able to: Deliver a lasting first impression upon arrival – with its aerie design, its splendid décor and its views looking out on to the 6th floor outdoor pool terrace and the Saigon river beyond, host guests in a space that is as welcoming and comfortable as it is colourful and grand, and establish a main focal point for both attention (because of its design) and activities (because of its purposes. I.e. guest check-in & check-out, concierge assistance, dining facility, recreational facility, etc.).

It’s interesting that there doesn’t seem to be any Vietnamese elements at all to the hotel. Why is that?

On the contrary! It’s true that the physical setting, at the first glance, may not be apparently Vietnamese. However, the ‘sense of place’ that discerning travellers often seek out is palpable through the distinctive Vietnamese hospitality offered.

The Vietnamese, by their nature, are very hospitable people. The desire to extend heartfelt hospitality is intrinsic. Here at The Reverie Saigon, the management team builds upon what’s second nature to its staff by training them to deliver that Vietnamese hospitality with the kind of sophistication and refinement that’s expected of luxury brands. That’s how this hotel is redefining luxury service in Vietnam. And service, in this business, is everything. So in that regard, the ‘Vietnamese-ness’ of this hotel is actually very evident. And in terms of the physical place, itself, those familiar with the local culture will be quick to realise that the Vietnamese people’s fondness for all things colourful, vibrant and lively is very well represented throughout the hotel. From the colourful installation of individual pieces of Murano glass on the ceiling of the ground floor lobby which, collectively, form the geographic silhouette of Vietnam to the equally exquisite chandeliers and vases by Venini made of richly coloured, hand-blown glass. From the vibrant, hand-laid mosaic art by Sicis to the hand-woven silks by Rubelli (one of the oldest fabric manufacturers in Italy). The Vietnamese people’s naturally joyful character and their enthusiasm for colours are actually apparent throughout. If you’re aware of it.

It’s just that for The Reverie Saigon, we chose to interpret and accentuate this love for colours – as well as for the use of different materials and textures – in a European way. Specifically, with materials, design elements and decorative pieces that largely originated in Italy. As a matter of fact, Asian symbolism can be found throughout the property – as interpreted by European artistry and craftsmanship. In The Royal Pavilion, for example, the restaurant’s rich golden & vermillion colour palette speaks to many Asian cultures, particularly those who have been greatly influenced by China, as those colours represent happiness and good fortune. And in Asia, not only is the peacock recognised as a symbol of beauty, but it is also believed to bring with it good feng shui. To the Vietnamese in particular, it’s a much-cherished symbol of abundance and good luck so that’s why peacock feathers were chosen for the brand’s logo.

Another reason why a peacock feather motif was chosen for the logo is because we’re unveiling to the world a very distinctive luxury offering dreamt up by limitless imagination and unbridled passion, one that’s meant to be captivatingly awe-inspiring. And the stylish, contemporary interpretation of the feathers – in the logo artwork – hints to the edginess of our interior design approach (bold, daring and sophisticated). What is also very Vietnamese is to take inspiration from many different peoples and places and to bring together seemingly contrasting elements to affect an unexpected sense of surprise and delight. And this is something that can be attributed to the fact that Vietnam’s long history has always been coloured by significant, and persistent, influence from foreign cultures – whether the French during the height of colonialism, the Americans during wartime or the Chinese throughout. And so, too, at The Reverie Saigon the bringing together of seemingly contrasting yet complementary elements – and taking inspiration from the world outside of Vietnam – is, in many ways, illustrative of the country’s storied past. That’s why throughout the hotel, you’ll often come across an eclectic arrangement of furnishings, textiles and decorative pieces.

Anywhere else, a hotel as eccentric as this would likely have a different affect, but its placement here in Saigon is perfect. It is, in so many ways, quintessentially Vietnam.

Find out more about The Reverie Saigon here…