We examine how the clever design of a resort, when created in consonance with its natural surroundings, can turn it into the transformative stay that guests today look for in a hotel.
It’s not always easy for a full-fledged five-star resort to resonate with the environment it is located in. But the sprawling Hyatt Regency Koh Samui, with its layered outdoor pool and lobby filled with natural light, seems to manage this quite effortlessly.
Its design-forward approach has been lauded by hotel critics and guests alike. And no wonder, because behind the architecture and landscaping is Wannaporn Pui Phornprapha, one of Thailand’s most revered landscape architects. And she has declared her work at this Hyatt Regency property as one of her most special achievements. Coming from the managing director of Bangkok-based firm P Landscape (PLA), which has steered numerous award-winning projects, including well-known developments such as the 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai and the Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok, this is a ringing endorsement indeed.
The design of the Hyatt Regency Koh Samui is a collaboration between three of Thailand’s biggest hotel design names — Office of Bangkok Architecture, August Design and PLA. The 140-room property occupies eight acres of private coastline in the far northeast corner of the paradise island. The resort’s appeal leverages the visual appeal of the coastal landscape, a forest of protected trees and the proximity of the ocean. In fact, Wannaporn says that the dazzling scenery at the property was the first thing that struck her when she was enlisted by resort owner Ithichai Poolvaraluck to be a member of his design dream team.
“Our vision for Hyatt Regency Koh Samui started to come together after the initial site visit by a PLA team led by our design director Sutisa Patanapanich,” she says, adding, “It really is a joint effort between us, the architecture team, the interior team and Khun Ithichai to convey this beautiful scenery into a unique experience that blends seamlessly with the guests’ lifestyle.” Deploying a design-forward philosophy, the property, which is located in North Chaweng — and is less than 10 minutes from the island’s international airport— bills itself as a ‘vacation gallery’ due to its array of visual highlights.
These include a showpiece lobby, the longest lobby arrival point in Koh Samui, where numerous skylights allow for natural illumination by the sun and the moon. Other standout features span plush accommodations that showcase terrific ocean views to one of the largest pool zones on the island, where a series of pools cascade down from the main pool on the upper deck of the resort.
The latter feature is a particular source of pride for Wannaporn who singles it out as one of her favourite aspects of the resort.
“We are especially excited about the pool area,” she says, explaining, “Each terrace accommodates diverse types of guests and lifestyles. The top layer serves families with a kid’s pool adjacent to the main pool. The bottom layer near the beach is more colourful and reflects the party vibe at Sesun (the resort’s beach bar). The swirling of dark and light colour tiles mimics the gleaming effects of the waves reflecting off sunlight and the gradual change in tones resonates with the ever-changing colour of the ocean throughout the day.”
The ocean is a big part of life here, with each of the 140 comfortable rooms including 24 spacious suites inspired by the surrounding sea. Many boasting private balconies or decks with plunge pools, and the majority offering breathtaking ocean views.
Sympathy with the existing nature of Koh Samui is a cornerstone of the landscape design at the Hyatt Regency here. So much so that the resort incorporates around 80 native Yang Na trees (Dipterocarpus alatus) that were once used by sailors and fishermen as navigational landmarks. Wannaporn believes that such harmony with its surroundings bodes well for the resort.
We got landscape architect Wannaporn Pui Phornprapha, MD of P Landscape, to share some insights about the design and landscaping of the Hyatt Regency Koh Samui. Excerpts from the interview…
Can you tell us about your overall vision for your work on Hyatt Regency Koh Samui?
Our vision for this resort started to come together after the site visit. It really is a joint effort between us, architecture team, interior team and the owner to convey these beautiful sceneries into a unique experience that blends seamlessly with the guests’ lifestyle.
Having seen the wide range of terrain the site had to offer, speckled by a constellation of existing Yang Na trees, it was really clear to us that this place has the potential to be more than just a destination. This gave rise to our landscape concept of the ‘living gallery’, which gives the guests more pleasant surprises and connection to nature the more they explore, be it a matchless overall experience or a stunning view along a passage.
How did you bring about the transformation of the eight-acre site?
The diverse beauty that we worked with was already there in the site. It was our role to curate these elements into an experience that is accessible to everyone and enhance this journey through the ‘living gallery’. In this sense, we are treating the existing nature and conditions themselves as the art to be exhibited. The key to executing this experience successfully has been the team’s mutual understanding of the complexity and importance of capturing the essence.
How have you have been able to integrate creativity, culture and local heritage while also enhancing the site’s existing environment and ecology?
With shared understanding and collaboration with OBA, August Design and Khun Win Ithichai, Hyatt Regency Koh Samui exhibits an interwoven experience that seamlessly blends architecture to landscape and interior to exterior. Ultimately, a borderless tapestry rich in culture, function, style and greenery.
“It is crucial to acknowledge that landscape and nature are not static, they are seasonal, temporal and dynamic,” she said. “Preservation of local trees gives this project a unique aesthetic that endures. At PLA we believe there is nothing more sustainable than protecting the beauty that is meant to be there.”
The eco element at Hyatt Regency Koh Samui is strong with the ‘gallery in the landscape’ concept and the mindfulness involved in creating the resort’s six zones. Can you tell us a little bit more about how sustainability and a connection to nature is central to the landscaping philosophy here?
It is crucial to acknowledge that landscape and nature are not static, they are seasonal, temporal and dynamics. With that said, it does not necessarily mean that these variables are our obstacles. Hyatt Regency Koh Samui has done really well in embracing these elements and have them play to our strength.
The six galleries, Forest, Colour, Cliff, Rock, Beach and the Pool area showcase different natural elements found on site, provide a needed change of pace in such a vast property. Preservation of local trees gives this project a unique esthetic that lasts. There is nothing more sustainable than protecting the beauty that is meant to be there.
With eight acres of land, it covers an extensive area. Can you tell us about some of the advantages of having such a large tract of land to work with? Also, what were some of the main challenges?
This unique piece of land has opened up numerous opportunities for us to bring the most out of the resort’s striking characters in the right pacing without overcrowding the experience. At a larger scale, we had to consider the flow of the programme placements in tandem with the existing terrain for a master plan that best serve the guests, both practically and visually. Open and connected but not revealing everything all at once has its own charm, which really plays well with the ‘living gallery’ concept we were going for.
The challenge was in the details, making our visions and designs work in hands with the existing conditions, such as maintaining each tree elevation, maximising the view shed from the terrain and preserving around 80 Yang Na trees (some over 100 years old) and other local flora.
PLA has worked on many of the most prestigious resorts and hotels in Thailand and overseas including Rosewood Phuket, Capella Bangkok, Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay in Phuket and now Hyatt Regency Koh Samui. Clearly you need to adapt to the different requirements of individual projects, but do you have certain overriding approaches that you apply across the board?
Client’s requirements, existing conditions, local identity, brand identity, also safety and privacy, for every single project, PLA’s design teams approach it with these criteria in mind in order to craft an experience dedicated to each project and site specifically. As our consideration for each project is based on a unique set of variables that respond to each dedicated site. Our approach always begins with an in-depth study of the site’s native plants, materials and culture. While the practice seems procedural, this information is the foundation to giving lasting character to each project.