The first thing we saw at The South Beach was a Lee Lee Nam video art wall. Installed front and centre (and mere steps) of the entrance, the South Korean artist’s six-metre-tall and seven-metre-wide digital canvas loomed extra large.
We were told the piece was conceptualised as a ‘moving picture’ to convey a sense of ‘transformation and energies’, inviting guests to explore their imaginations and leave the ordinary behind. Having a video wall at the entrance struck us as playful, too – it also functioned as a partition that screened (what was to come), heightening the sense of anticipation in the arrival experience.
The Global Village which is the hotel lobby ensues after the video wall. To our left, we caught a glimpse of a communal table set up over which a huge cocoon sculpture hung. We took the right and the lobby, which serves as one of the hotel’s many imaginative social spaces, unfolded in a long, linear stretch – a remarkable contrast to the verticality of space experienced just before the art wall.
Seven individual check-in desks lined the linear lobby. Each of these desks depicts seven different societies from around the world, including that of the Europeans, the Peranakans, the North Americans, the South Americans, the Indians, the Chinese and the Moorish.
Opposite the desks, shining in pink neon (discreetly, ironically) from under an elongated lampshade a string of words reads ‘On the road of ways there was A after B’. Indeed, many features in this hotel seemed to defy easy, straightforward reading, as is typical of Starck’s work.
There were trick-of-eye objects (a trompe l’oeil ‘chair back bench’ and a 160 ‘floating’ candles centrepiece, for instance), and ‘out-of-place’ fixtures (PREFIX, the lobby bar is perhaps the only bar in Singapore that has a fireplace). These whimsical, sometimes offbeat features provided plenty to wonder at, and to ponder over.
The elevator ride was another surprise. As the doors shut, the RGB lights came on, and images of sea creatures showed up in flashes of red, green, or blue on the walls. It was amusing to think that Starck had chosen to depict the depths of the ocean as we shot up the skyscraper. The lift ride was transporting, if not disorientating, but that was the point: all of this – the eclecticism, the play – was part of a design intention to ‘create infinite experiences’; to send you to another space and time.
On the guest room floors, we were cast into yet another world. All along the walls, floors and doors of the corridors were depictions of a child’s drawings – although the scent in the air and the muted colour tone reminded us of a bamboo forest. There was a softening in mood, and we naturally fell to speaking in hushed tones.
The guest rooms are called ‘Showcase Rooms and Suites’. There’s ‘Showcase Me’ (Deluxe Room), ‘Showcase You’ (Premier Rooms), ‘Showcase Us’ (Deluxe Club Room), and ‘Showcase Us Plus’ (Premier Club Room). Appropriate to the idea of ‘showcasing’ (oneself), mirrors and mirrored surfaces were everywhere. There was a sense of quietness and privacy in these cool toned, white on white rooms. In the ladies rooms, (there are 80 of such rooms, spread over three strictly ladies only floors featuring additional amenities and security), bed linen had been given pink piping, as were many other custom amenities and accessories.
Up at Flow18, a sky garden wrapped around the building presented a rewarding panorama of the city. Open to the outside all around, this floor offered a sense of the city, the weather and locality. Set up as a mixture of seating clusters, and game and leisure areas with a foosball and ping pong table, this was designed as an Imaginative Social Space where guests (who are strangers) could be ‘alone together’ in the property.
Back in ‘Global Village’, we took a seat on the chair bench and the intention of the placement became clear: you sit here to watch the scene. Richard Rogers has said that one of life’s greatest pleasures is in watching people. The South Beach hotel’s imaginative social spaces are just opportunities set up for such enjoyment.
The South Beach