Naera Hotel and Spa Interview – Light Talk 2021 Episode 01
By Martin Klaasen
(Written content is taken from the Naera Hotel & Spa video published on YouTube; edited and adapted for Medium & WordPress by Kirstyn Klaasen)
Hello, my name is Martin Klaasen and I’m the lighting designer for the beautiful project, the Naera Hotel and Spa in Xitang, China. A bit about my background, I’ve been a lighting designer for more than 35 years, I’ve had done many beautiful projects in this world and being invited to do the lighting for this project is really a big honour for me. I was previously working together with the interior designer on the Alila Hotel in Yangshuo, which was also at the base of this project. The owner of this project was made known about Alila hotel and he liked it and liked the team and when Ju Bin (interior designer) came on board, he also invited me to join. I see the same sort of beauty coming into this hotel as well. When I met Mr Zhu (the hotel owner) we did our initial concept, we were really quite excited about the architectural concept, the interior concept and how lighting could gel everything together. So, we started to work on this and as we went along, we got more and more excited about seeing the things coming together.
Of course, being one of the few foreign consultants we had a few challenges, some of the challenges obviously are the communication. I don’t speak much Chinese, just a few words so that meant that I had to use my Chinese staff to communicate but I think it worked out very well. The challenges, also maybe in some cultural and international background. Obviously, we are trained to do projects all over the world but we have to deal with the Chinese culture, the local culture and trying to bring that together was one of our challenges. I think with a team that works really well together and respects each other; I think we found many solutions that bring out the hotel in a very nice way.
Lighting is always something very visual so when people see it, it touches the heart straight away so managing people’s expectations when they see the lighting in progress and then maybe they think it’s already the final result. We need to explain that you know it’s a process, it’s something that progresses along the way. Today now we’re at the stage of opening the hotel, we can see it coming together and it’s really so exciting. We can feel the emotions from all the designers come together and lighting brings out that emotion, I think. We have beautiful architecture, we have beautiful interiors, but I think the lighting brings that extra touch, that extra feel to this project. We have been blessed to have this vision of a new hotel brand; I think this is also something that has been exciting for everybody involved. It’s not an existing brand even though the parent company is existing as a hotel operator, but we are developing a new brand, a new direction, a new lifestyle. So this hotel is going to become a new destination, a new adventure, a new exploration in hospitality and I think also with all the artwork and the artistry that’s being put into this project people will find a really unique destination.
We have one very special feature in this hotel something that I’ve never done before, which is a light show. We have a light show linking together all the public spaces, the hotel is set up with a central courtyard, with a water feature in the middle which reflects all the buildings. At night obviously, it reflects the lighting and the public areas like the reception, the bar, the tea house, the library they’re all linked together through this courtyard. One of the initial concepts that we have carried through all the way is to make these public areas that are viewable from all around the courtyard, part of this light show. Besides the regular lighting, we also have this coloured lighting that is located in all the window boxes and every night at certain hours, I think it’s every hour for about 15 minutes there’s a light show that has been dedicated for viewing. Wherever you are whether you’re in the bar, in the restaurant, in the library you can view this, even from your room you can see it. It adds something very special that also brings out the uniqueness of this project because you can feel something is going on. It’s something special, it’s not very loud, it’s very soft and subtle that’s happening it’s like oh look something is happening, that sort of feeling. Which is exactly what we want, this whole hotel is based on this surprise and that wow feeling. When you walk around you discover something new so the balance of lighting and how we accentuated the artworks, how we guide people to the various areas has been based on this principle. We want people to discover the hotel and the various unique features. A lot of effort has been put into the artworks and I think that’s also what makes this hotel quite unique but without light, you wouldn’t see it, so it’s very important to match the artwork with the lighting. I think if I look back now, it really feels like we are accomplishing something very nice.
It has been a long road; we’ve been working on this for nearly three years trying to make the concept a reality. We know there have been challenges along the way, it’s not only the idea but you have to make it work. We have to work within the budget, trying to make it work financially as well as creating value for money and I think we have achieved this. Working with other members of the project team is really important, I’ve always said that lighting is just a part, it’s just an element of everything else. Sometimes it’s said that lighting glues everything together, the architecture, the interior, the art, the signage it’s all linked together through light, but lighting doesn’t exist by itself it’s part of a team effort. We need to work with the architect, we need to work with interior designer, we need to work with a landscape specialist, the art artwork specialist so that requires a lot of interaction, a lot of communication. If you work in a team you know communication, it’s quite critical and if you work with a team the relationship, the personal relationships become also very important. We have worked with clients that are remote and then they just tell you what to do but there’s not that direct interaction. With Mr Zhu and his team, we have a very close relationship, it’s nearly a friendship. This friendship and this relationship also extends to the various consultants, the interior designer, the architect and everybody else. That personal relationship helps to forge an end result that is one step further than it would be if you don’t have that communication.
With Ju Bin I have a special relationship I’ve known him now for I think six years and we have done several projects together Alila, Yangshuo won us several awards and has forced that relationship. That relationship is not only a matter of communication but also understanding and respect for each other’s design expertise. When you work together, you respect each other, and you have the same understanding of what beauty is and what design is. Then you get an end result that is one plus one equals three, you know what I mean. There’s an extra dimension when you understand each other, and you just need a few sketches to discuss with each other. That has been a process that Ju Bin and I have had over the last couple of years, we are working still on several other projects and it’s that understanding of what makes the end result beautiful, what are the little tweaks that we need to do to just go that one step further, how material and interior work with lighting. He understands lighting, I understand interior architecture so with that understanding but most of all the trust and respect that we have in each other, I think we can achieve what we are achieving here in this property. That has been at the base of the success I think, the personal relationship but also the trust and respect for each other. That’s part of the whole process of working together, you respect each other but you learn from each other and you teach each other. You have to be open to that, I’ve worked with designers the say oh it’s my way or the highway. I’ve known quite a lot of very famous designers, architects they don’t take in this relationship and this two-way process of communication. They just say oh this is it; this is how you have to do it and if I say no or question it, they say no, no this is the way it is and then it’s difficult. I’ve been in this business for close to 40 years, so I always value and still today I learn and that’s what also drives and motivates me. Every time I see something new say oh wow how did they do that, that’s really interesting maybe I can use that and re-configure it differently, or I can use it in this application. You have to be open to learn and grow, always. You never reach the end; I think it’s a continuous path that we are on and I’m really happy with the end result.
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