«… Everyone, everyone without exception will win…«
Jean-Michel Gathy of Denniston Architects is the principal designer and personally conceptualises all design work since the company’s inception in 1993.
CC MAG: The expectations towards The Chedi Andermatt were high, but it looks like you will even surpass them… what do you focus on more before and during your creational process: The future guest or your client?
JMG: The future guest. Honestly, keep it short, because that’s what the guest wants to hear. The fact that I take care of my clients and his budgets etc. that’s also true, but the guests don’t care. They go to a holiday place or they buy a real estate in a place where the architect took care of THEM, not of the clients. They don’t care. You better say the truth to the future guests.
CC MAG: Anyone who enters a Chedi Resort knows going in that it will be magnificent. The international rules that apply for luxury hotels are set. And still, a Chedi is a special place, a place that you need to discover. Step by step. Moment for moment. When you make your plans, do you already have an idea how to channel the direction of the visitors’ steps and their line of vision?
JMG: First and foremost when you design a hotel, you must follow certain rules. I am not talking about guest rules. The way people live, the way people enter in a public they don’t know, the way they are going to be treated, the way they are going to be put at ease, the way they are going to be brought to their rooms – so – all that dynamics, that sequence, of course has to be taken into consideration from the first day that you start designing the layout.
So the first, what I call »zoning« is already determined by these parameters. You don’t just design a space, you know people come in, how they are going to be asked, what they are going to do, they are going to be intimidated, they are going to be arriving from a long trip, the kids are going around… so the whole system has to work following a certain principle of rules… not rules and regulations… but the principal of human behavior. People behave the same way all the time. That is why for example, that is a very important detail, when you enter in a restaurant, if you enter you open the door of the restaurant and you have in front of you 25 tables, everybody – whenever you enter – stops and looks who enters. The first most comfortable thing you can have when you enter in a restaurant is to enter onto a bar. When you enter onto a bar people don’t stop and look at you. You are immediately absorbed by the bar atmosphere. First you are standing as opposed to seating. Therefore is a little bit of a casual approach already. You are arriving standing and the people in the bar are standing. Whereas if you are arriving in a restaurant you are arriving standing and everybody is sitting. So obviously there is already a difference of behavior. So when you enter onto a bar you are immediately more comfortable. Think about yourself when you are in a restaurant or in a bar, it is much easier to enter onto a bar that in an open room or a restaurant with tables.
That’s what we have done in The Chedi. Everybody arrives for holiday, whether they come from Germany, whether they come from New York, whether they come from Malaysia. They arrive and they are, like always when you enter in a new place. Slightly uncomfortable, you are a little bit – not intimidated – but uncomfortable. So you must have a welcoming arm. An the best arms you can have are the people and the bar. And that is why we decided to do the reception at the bar. So when you enter we will say: »Good morning Mrs Melanie, welcome to The Chedi, and you sit at the bar and they serve you a tea, or a glass of Whisky or a Snack or whatever it is. That is an important process in the welcoming system. So – the whole flow of a hotel is planned from the first day. What I call the flow, the hotel flow, for guests, for service and for electrical / mechanical services is planned from the first day. Actually I do this myself. It is really the science of hotel design. Exactly like a network or a hospital. If you arrive in an ambulance at the emergency and you have a heart attack they have a system of flow in the hospital which brings you immediately in cardiology. You don’t go in rheumatology. You understand? So you go immediately in cardiology, because it’s planned for it. When you arrive in an airport you go through immigration first and then you collect your luggage. So there is a system, there is a flow, the is a security area, there is no service zone…
So there is a model of the hotel industry and of the flow. So yes – all this is being taken into consideration from the first day. And we have tried, not only the know- how and the circulation and the flow, is called the skeleton, but within these, for each step we have tried to make it pleasant. As I said the first step is when you enter, it’s the bar. The lift is easy to find. Think about it, when you arrive you go to the bar and you go to the lift. You don’t have to walk in with your new suit or your jacket or your high boots through the lounge where everybody sits and talks to each other and having fun. You don’t have to. You slide into the lift and go up. So the lift has to be close to the entry. When you want to leave at night etc. you can leave discretely. So all that flow is very important. And when you sit and rest, for a drink, a cognac, for a wine, that is when you have time. That’s when you need the view. When you have a place where you want people together you don’t need the view. You need promiscuity.
Therefore you need a fireplace – the fireplace becomes your center of attention. This why the lounge has no view, because it’s not important for the lounge. The lounge is all about people coming back at night, it’s dark at night, and nobody stays in the lounge in the morning. Who goes in the lounge in the morning. The lounge is – I would say, introvert. On the other hand the cognac, the wine etc. you go for a 4 o’clock tea etc. You sit, you look at the lake, you look at the mountain, you look at the outside and the ice rink etc. So – whenever you need to have a view we have given you the view. Whenever you don’t need a view, when we want you to be introvert, for mumbling with other people and create life and energy, we give you a fireplace. You understand?
An example: what is the most important part of a hotel for passing guests? It’s the restaurant. That is why we put the restaurant on the street front, because you want it to be captive for the local market. So the people, the local people, will say »ah – let’s have lunch there today« – »not a bad idea – let’s have lunch there.« So the main restaurant is captive for the outside market, too. Not just for the people. Because the people who are inside of the hotel are already there. They are going to eat there anyway. But the one YOU want during the low season, you want to make sure the guy from the village goes and has lunch with us. That’s again a little detail.
Now – when you come back for example from ski at night you have an after-ski-bar. Why? Because people come from the backside [of the building] with their ski etc. They don’t care to look towards the train station. They don’t care. Because they come, they all »blague« about how good they were on ski on that day, how they were so fast, how they beat everybody at the slalom, they drink Schnaps, they are sweating, thirsty, they have boots etc. I mean we all ski, so we all know what it is. So that is why that place is not the proud place. It’s just a side-place. But it’s the place where you are comfortable to be »messy«. Whereas in the lounge, you would be uncomfortable to be messy. So we create all this zoning area, all this floor between the zoning area because they correspond to the behavior you have at that specific moment for that specific use.
For example: The Spa. What you want when you go in a treatment? Privacy. It’s on the side. Nobody sees the entrance on the side. You have one layer, on the right you have the hair dresser, the manicure, the pedicure, and you continue. And then you have another arrival, which is the Spa. When you sit down with an advisor and you tell him you want a massage like this, where you have a pain in the back and this and this – you need privacy for that. You don’t go and see the doctor in the middle of the bazaar. It’s privacy for the Spa. And then even the retreat from the Spa, you go and lay down, you have this waterflow etc. which gives you noise.
The gym, most people go to the gym either because they really want to exercise, or they want to show their muscles, or they want to check out the girls. That is why we have to find a good argument for the man to go and bullshit his way, he’s got no muscles any more, he is too old to run on the treadmill, so he sits and reads a book. He looks good. He looks like an intellectual. That is why we turned that gym into a library. All these are the layers over layers over layers of perceptions and moments that you live. They are not just physical. They are emotional. They are psychological. You go to the gym… who goes to the gym to get big muscles? When you are on holiday you are going to ski all day. When you come back you don’t want the gym. You want to sleep. You can’t walk when you come back from the ski. So – the gym has to be a pampering gym. Even though if you want to jump on the machine you can jump on the machine.
So all the zoning, the flow and the allocation of each facility has been studied according to human behavior and what we know about ski holidays.
CC MAG: As soon as you take the first step into the resort, you experience a feeling of calm and beauty, the eye can enjoy it and have its own experience. Here, the feeling controls the eye. In the end the two meet. All the senses have arrived. How important is for you to let the guest have a sensual experience, or are you more oriented towards stone-cold facts?
JMG: No, no. mean this is 100% – it’s not a matter of more important or less important – 100% of an experience in a resort hotel is totally sensorial. It’s all about emotions, about feelings, about feeling of being comfortable, feeling of being at ease, feeling of being warm, feeling of being satisfied in terms of your food, meeting people – I mean: it’s ALL emotions. It’s only that. And what we do – we try to create a venue for these emotions to be in their best environment and express themselves best. We want to make sure the emotion you have when you look at the fireplace, you are surrounded by soft colors and pleasant colors. We put some reds and some funny looking highlights. Because we just don’t want to be an amount of space, we want also energy. So you must have emotions, and layers of emotions, but you also must have the energy. That is why for example, if you look at the after-ski-bar, you can see the floor: we have these stripes. This is to create energy, because these stripes are more aggressive to the eye. Therefore they are in correspondence to the fact that you just arrive back from your ski. You still have your adrenaline – so you need that complementary energy. This is why that are is more aggressive, more design, more control, more contrast. Whereas the lounge area is softer. There are the big lounge daybeds, you have the fireplace, you have the chimney with bulks etc. all these basically calms you down. OK? The lighting is also very important. The lighting is substantially subtle, applied, create drama but yet intimacy etc. We try in the décor – and this is more décor than zoning – to appeal to the senses. Look for example the swimming pool. We wanted a swimming pool where you can swim. I hate these swimming pools that look like big bathtubs. You rather have a proper pool or you don’t have a pool. I am a swimming pool maniac. I love swimming pools. For me a swimming pool is very important, because not only it gives you a chance to exercise, if you want to, but yet it is a communal plan, it’s like a fireplace. If you go in a resort anywhere on the beach, if you do not have a swimming pool you will leave 2 days later. Even though if you have a swimming pool you might not go, but you must have a swimming pool. So we have a swimming pool. And around that swimming pool we didn’t put just daybeds, I mean lounges. We put sofas, seating area, fireplace… So again: we want that place to be an emotional venue, a venue where your emotions are drawn up to something. It’s fantastic to be in the middle of the snow, to be next to the pool with a fireplace next to you. This is all emotional, it is nothing else but this emotion and feel good.
CC MAG: The resorts nestle into the surrounding area but still manage to create a whole new world, their own world, a Chedi world. To what extent is the surrounding area only a backdrop for something entirely separate, and how important is it for your concept?
JMG: Well, the first thing you try to do is to integrate yourself in the – we call that urban scale – but in this case it’s a village so in the village scale. So you want to be part of the village, not alien. That is the first thing. Second thing: just by respecting the laws, and the laws in Switzerland are extremely strict – the type of roof we have, the materials we have, the maximum height, type of windows, the type of stone etc. – all these are extremely controlled. So we were substantially controlled by these elements. So normally the codes and regulations force us to integrate ourselves, but then we try to maximize that integration, by playing around with small volumes. So what we did: we created large chalets, but we linked them. So volume wise and massing wise it looks like big chalets, which is the architectural language of the village of course. They are bigger than small private chalets, yes of course, because this is a commercial venture. But they are all the same slope, the same pitch for the roof, the same material, the same colors etc. So if you scope your eyes when you go on the top of the mountain and you look down to the village you don’t see the Chedi. I mean – you see if you focus on it, because it’s brand new, but the patina will come progressively. Don’t forget: these villages are old, and the wood on the chalets is old and grey already. But ours would turn like this too. So within 5 years our hotel would be fully integrated. So we have integrated ourselves by volume, massing, shapes, roof pitch, material and color to the village scale-
CC MAG: How do you manage to let the Chedi style influence the residences and still create a frame in which the future homeowner can develop and how do you give these rooms their own character?
JMG: You don’t need to be a doctor in mathematics for that. I think that once you decide on the vision, in terms of product, in terms of feeling, in terms of materials, in terms of design-vision, you just apply to the apartments the same thing you have done to the hotel. So what you have to do therefore is work out layouts of apartments, you want to make sure they are sellable, they are interesting, they are attractive – but then the volume remains similar or the architectural language is similar to the hotel. It is just a little bit more complicated because you have different layouts, therefore you have different windows, different elevations etc. – it’s more complicated to design but you apply the same principles, the same materials, the same massing, the same roofs, and then inside you basically continue the same materials. And therefore there is consistency and the space looks more seamless and more attractive than if you would have two different products.
When you do your house – imagine you have a house in the countryside and then you build a barn in the back. You want to make sure that the barn has something to do with your house. Why did you change out the picture? Unless you try to make a point. But in this case we are also subject to cold regulations etc. So when we apply all these codes and regulations, when we decide to keep the same language it results into something which is cohesive.
CC MAG: What does it mean to you, this symbolism of changing a former prison army camp into a relaxed vacation resort for happy people?
JMG: (loughs) Well – this is a political question. As a general statement I would like to say that of course I prefer to have a resort and enjoy the mountains for many people rather than being a place where people suffer. I think it is more fun to design a fun resort than an army camp. I think for a village it is better to have a resort than an army camp because that resort is going to be a very very good boost for the village. It is going to boost for the ski area, the gondolas, the restaurants, the bars, the other hotels, the retails, etc. Everyone, everyone without exception will win. The village, the people of the village, the government, the tax – everybody is going to win by having a development, as long as the development is sensitive and appropriate to the location I think everybody wins. So yes – I prefer to have a resort rather than an army camp.
CC MAG: At what time, you hope, will the moment come that somebody gives you the job of creating a resort on the moon?
JMG: (loughs) Well – that’s a German. Because you know that the ones who send people on the moon were the Germans. Everybody tells you it’s the Americans, but it’s not the Americans, it’s van Braun and his team. So I think that – loughs again – but I’m asked – I love it.. I think I would say 25-30 years. Actually no. Not 25-30 years. Much faster. Because we are working out ways of living on the moon etc, etc. And as soon as they have worked it out, they are going to have a place to stay. So – of course these resorts are not going to be the same than The Chedi Andermatt. They are going to be completely enclosed and completely self- controlled in terms of environment. But I think within 20 years or 15 years probably there would be already research ongoing on accommodation and facilities on the moon. I think 15 years. This is only to me… I think is going to be more the engineering study rather than an esthetics study. It’ s going to be: how can people live there, what can we have to give them, it’s going to be more like a hospital rather than a resort. But a sexy resort where you will be swimming and things in the moon: I would say 50 years.
CC MAG: If you were ever to receive such a job order of having to create a resort on the moon, what would your inspiration points be?
JMG: It’s a good question. My first reaction is, I would have to account onto the knowledge of professionals with regards to technical parts, i.e. oxygen and controls of waste, evacuations of gas and everything. So for this it will be entirely based on the knowledge of professionals, because people have been studying this for years. But – what would be exciting for me would be, thinking about these guys who go on the moon and stay a year or two have nothing to do. They can’t just go out and pull their dogs outside and say let’s have a run. They can go nowhere. I would want to make that hotel, or at least that accommodation, as extraordinary for them to really to feel – wow – that’s fabulous. Maybe there is nothing else, but that’s fabulous. So I think you would need to give the guy the ultimate fun place. It will have to be super comfortable, it would have to be totally fun, it would have to be animated with retails and games and sports facilities – so it would be quite a major station. It would like creating an enclosed village, but: fun. You would have different styles, you can’t have one style of one hotel, because people have no choice. In our case, if you don’t like The Chedi Andermatt, you can go to St. Moritz, but on the moon they won’t have choice – because totally, totally capted to your environment. So I wanna make sure that I would give them 15-20 different types of environment. They will have a tropical feel in a certain area, they will have a winter feel in another area, I will have an urban feel, a casual feel, an ethnic feel – so we would really create a little bit of a »mini-world«. That’s what I would do.
CC MAG: Do you, as a first step, sit down like an eremite / meditating by yourself for three days on the resort property and let yourself be inspired by the surroundings?
JMG: No I don’t. I could say it would look very good in a magazine to say: yes, I thought, I concentrate and all that bullshit. It doesn’t work this way. I have known Switzerland and the mountains for 58 years, I have skied, I have trailed, I know mountains, I know snow, I know cold, I know blizzard, I know fog etc. like all Europeans. So already all these elements of the environment, mountains etc, I know them.
So I do not have to reflect for 3 days on that. That’s the first thing. Second thing: I actually personally knew Andermatt for having myself skied at the Gemsstock before. I even knew Andermatt. Third: I know the hotel business, because that’s all I do.
So as soon as I put these things together, what is mountain, what is Switzerland, what is Andermatt and what is the hotel business – all these are packages that I already have in my sub conscience. So I just pull the cord, say I know that’s what we need, In know what are going to do, this is what we should do, this is what we have to be careful of etc. and then I translate these into: a hotel works this way, we have to do that, the guest want this way, the room rate is going to be that much, so that is how I am going to articulate, this is the size I am going to give for that, etc. etc. So basically I have the whole baggage, all the components of the equations I have, I just have to articulate them together. So I don’t have to sit down and think for 3 days – no. But when I sit down and start designing – yes I sit, I design at my desk, close the door, play Bocelli and I design. And then if I do design like this I enter into a mode of recess. I would not say Zen or Yoga mode – but sort of, yes. Psychologically I just disconnect from what surrounds me and I just focus on the design and I visualize and I create everything. And in 2 or 3 days I have designed the concept. I am not saying the detail, but the flow, the logic, the planning of the hotel is done.
CC MAG: The architecture is monumental. It appears large, but you get the feeling that you belong there -> feels like home, a feel-good atmosphere … / privacy is there… How do you achieve that?
JMG: By the layers. What makes us known in this business is the ability of layering experiences. It’s very important. A lot of architects or interior designers, because in this case it’s both I talk, they create a one-layered space. You enter the space, you know everything. I don’t like that. I like »striptease«. I like the discovery. You have to go and all passes, or there is this, oh there is some more, oh there is some more etc etc. I like – how do you call that – »strip poker«. And that is where I think people like our projects. If you go look at every project we have done – and we have done many – every one of them you look you will see, it’s always this: oh my god, this corresponds to this, oh look, this is the same thing than that, I like this lamp, I haven’t seen this before… And even if you come to my house, you can come to my house 10 times, every time you discover more, because it is packed of things.
If you come once, you just have a feeling but you don’t see anything – there are too many. I like when things are layered. That’s what makes that feeling. So every piece of the layering is human scale. And even though it’s monumental as you say – it’s not monumental, but it’s glorious or glamourous, but every piece is just a human piece. The art is to put them together. The rooms are not big. The seatings are not big, nothing is like »wow« – but you are comfortable. And what I have tried to do at The Chedi Andermatt is to be comfortable. I don’t design for a picture in the magazines – I design for the guests. I want the guest to say: I don’t know what it is, but I like it there. And for me that’s good. If you reach this, it doesn’t matter what you have designed – you have succeeded.
People come to me and say: I don’t know how they do, I don’t know what it is, I mean this is not big, this is not small …but I love it. I don’t know what it is, but I like it. Well – if I have done that I have succeeded. And that this is the succession of every element, every reference that you as a person have. You sit and you have in front of you a sofa, in front of you a table, in front of you a cheminée – each of these elements are basically where is your home. None of them are special. But they are »dancing« together, they are linked, they are in harmony. And it makes you feel good, because you feel comfortable.
CC MAG: What would you do if a client asked you to install golden faucets (gaudiness)?
JMG: The anser is »no«. (loughs) I would say no.
I would say: you’re out of your mind, you don’t understand, ask somebody else. But I would say no.
CC MAG: What would be more of a disappointment in your eyes – if a guest says that he does not like the resort or if he does not wear a happy smile on his lips while he moves through the resort?
JMG: I think if he tells me that he does not like the resort. Because you might be moody that day and you don’t have a smile. But you might still like the place. Sometimes you see me moody, but I still love my wife. If I come back and say: I don’t love my wife – then we have a problem. I think that somebody telling me »I don’t like the resorts Jean-Michel« – and whether he is right or wrong, it’s irrelevant. If he does not like it – I am disappointed, because that means I failed in pleasing – you can’t please everybody of course – obviously. But if 10 tell you they like it and 1 tells you »I don’t like it« that’s fine. But if 10 tell you they don’t like it and one tells you »I like it« then we are in trouble.
CC MAG: When was the last time you went skiing?
JMG: Last year, Christmas. In another hotel I built in the mountains, at the Viceroy hotel in Snowmass, Colorado.
CC MAG: Thank you very much for the interview.
TEXT: jörn Pfannkuch, Cinnamon Circle
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