Our Setsu Journey Part 5 – Interview with Atsushi Uchida
Let us continue our journey into the creation of Setsu Niseko, as we talk to interior designer Atsushi Uchida, Senior Vice President Field Four Design Office and the visionary behind the room interior design at Setsu Niseko. Based in Tokyo Field Four Design Office is a design firm that focuses on interior design with a mission to create new value by creating spaces where people can enjoy life, exercise their creativity and bring change to the future through the power of design.
What was your vision for the Setsu Niseko project?
In Japan today, you see many contemporary hotels with Japanese influence designs by very talented designers from overseas. It makes us realise that there are a lot of ‘Japan-inspired’ design concept that we didn't pay attention enough in the past. With Setsu Niseko, we aimed to have a 'contemporary and Japan design designed by our Japan design team for overseas guests’.
Were you surprised when SC Global asked you to do your first overseas project in Hokkaido?
It was a big surprise, but a happy one. When we saw SC Global's high-quality residential projects, we knew we had to put our heart and soul into this challenging project, our very best and more. I would like to express my gratitude to SC Global for this opportunity to work with overseas client and Japanese interior designers on this project in Japan.
We understand that the Tang Dynasty poem "Snow Moon Flower (Setsu Getsu Ka)" had a great influence on the early design vision. Can you tell us more about this inspiration?
Five summers ago, when interior design began. In the middle of the night on my first visit to Niseko, the moon was illuminating Mount Yotei and it looked magical. At that time, I wanted to create a design that depicts a sense of Japan where people and nature are connected with a special force.
Since ancient times, Japan has a sensibility that cherishes nature. Not only have we loved nature, but we also fear and respect it. Nature has a profound effect on Japanese people's outlook on life and faith. There are many words that superimpose one's life on the precious form of nature; Hana Tori Wind Moon, White Sand Blue Pine, Mountain Purple Water Ming. In the Chinese Tang Dynasty poem ‘Setsu Getsu Ka’ there are the words "I think of you in the beautiful scenery of the four seasons of snow (winter), moon (autumn), and flower (spring and summer)." The poem was also popular in Japan and was sung by various singers, Setsu Getsu Ka became a phrase that expressed the aesthetic design sense for Japanese.
I think of you in the beautiful snow, the moon, the flowers of Niseko... Don't you think that there is no better concept for Setsu Niseko, which respects the fellowship between people and nature, and the fellowship between people?
When we talk about design and Setsu Niseko, we always talk about the importance of a sense of place, but can you elaborate on some of the Japanese inspired designs of Setsu Niseko?
When we talk about a sense of place, we often look for a connection to the land in art, objects, and materials. Of course, these things are important, but this time I thought that the biggest sense of place is Mount Yotei (Mount Yotei hazy in the snow, Mount Yotei illuminated by the freezing moon, Mount Yotei shining in fresh greenery...) and the nature surrounding it. At Setsu Niseko, we wanted to create a living experience where you feel a sense of unity with the outside scenery.
Below the lower part of the window of the hotel suites is a windowsill daybed bench that continues from one end of the room to the other and the upper part of the window has an eaves shaped dropped ceiling. This is an analogy of the rim and attic on the outer periphery of a traditional Japan's dwelling. The window edge becomes an extension of the floor, and the lowered ceiling becomes an extension of the ceiling, and the view between the floor and the ceiling is completely open. The window daybed becomes an intermediate area between the interior and the outside, and allowing the use to feel more connected to the scenery beyond.
Japan spaces are usually designed relative to the eye level of the person sitting on the tatami mat. Lowering the centre of gravity of the room design creates a unique sense of liberation in terms of the low spatial height and focus of the space. A horizontal design further emphasizes the low centre of gravity. For the guest rooms, we applied both a design with a low centre of gravity and a horizontal base tone. We wanted guests to really experience the feeling of living in Japan and the beauty of the Japanese landscapes. The layout of the furniture is also oriented outward as much as possible so the guests can enjoy the beauty of the spectacular views. The interior uses less material, more cohesive tones, understated contrasts and soft indirect lighting. The understated interiors are designed to enhance the ever-changing scenery of Niseko’s seasons.
What are your favorite design elements/design points in Setsu Niseko?
It is the design of the window sill edge side mentioned earlier. The porch side is an area between the interior and the outside, but we wanted to make it a place of hotel life, just like you would find inside a traditional Japanese house. A daybed is built into the windowsill, and when you relax there, you can feel a sense of unity between yourself and the mountains. There is a bookshelf under the window sill so that you can lie down and read a book. In the room on the courtyard side, you can see the four seasons of the courtyard through the snow shoji. I designed it as the most attractive place in the room.
What were your biggest challenges in working on this project?
It was a project blessed with excellent architectural planning and location. The challenge was to strike a balance between the needs of international hospitality and a ‘relaxing in a Japan space’ experience. It should not be a space that forces overseas guests to put up with it for the sake of Japan design. It needed a different approach from designing a traditional luxury hotel and adding random Japanese elements into the space. We designed the space by understanding the meaning and formation of Japan design, and then expressing that spirit with a contemporary design method.
Your team is working on many hotel projects. How do you make each one special and unique?
It is important to carefully decipher the potential and weak points of the space before starting the design. Often it is self-evident what makes the most potential within a design, but if the weak points can be sublimated into a small character within the space rather than being a shortcoming, then I think it will be a unique space that cannot be found anywhere else.
Who is the person you admire the most past or present designers/architects?
In the past, I admired and followed many foreign designers and architects. Eventually, I came to understand that a design that is steeped in my own roots and ideas is key. The people that I look up to are people with their own original ideas and are working on the designs of the present and the future.
Setsu Niseko won Best Condo Interior Design (Asia) at the 2021 PropertyGuru Regional Awards. Were your team surprised? How did the team feel about receiving this award?
It was a great surprise and an honour. Thank you. We have won many national awards, but there are few international awards. Through this project, I was reminded that our design is connected to the world. In the future, we would like to continue to develop strengthen our connection overseas, even more than we do now.
It is 3 days to our pre-opening on 12 August, and we are very excited to have you stay with us at Setsu Niseko.
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