The St. Regis Lhasa, Tibet: Designing the Luxury East/West Experience at 12,000 Feet
My colleague, Deidre Woollard, wrote in Luxist about opening of The St. Regis Lhasa Tibet in November, 2010. It is now receiving significant attention for its original architectural design that merges traditional Tibetan elements with signature St. Regis amenities into a luxury hotel literally on top of the world.
At 12,000 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest luxury hotels in the world, with unimpeded views of the Himalayas and Lhasa Valley. The resort was designed from the ground up with sustainable features including solar panels, locally-sourced produce and herbs for the resort's three signature restaurants, as well as an underground water recycling system.
The eight-acre-resort complex is inspired by the nearby world-famous Sera Monastery, built in 1419, a place of great architectural and spiritual significance to this region. The Sera Monastery developed over the centuries as a place of scholarly learning, and trained hundreds of scholars, many of whom have attained fame in the Buddhist nations. There are still nunneries and hermitages on the property, and is still home to famous Tibetan Monk debates about Buddhist sacred texts.
"The Sera Monastery is beautiful, dramatic and lively, and very much what I wanted to capture about Tibetan culture," said Jean-Michel Gathy, Principal Designer of Denniston International Architects, and the architect, interior and hardscape designer for the St. Regis Lhasa. "And, while the monastery is an immense place," he continues, " I appreciated how they have created many intimate spaces and courtyards. It was an excellent model for introducing the St Regis brand to this region."
Similar to the natural beauty of the surrounding Himalayas, the resort is surrounded on all sides by high pale gray walls made from stone, and landscaped with poplar and willow trees. The buildings have exteriors of stone with dark shale/tile pagoda-style roofs, an homage to the ancient Buddhist culture that surrounds the resort. There are three main complexes with buildings that house 150 guest rooms, 12 villas and suites, and a Presidential Suite. In addition, the resort features The Decanter Wine Bar and The Iridium Spa.
A cobblestone walkway up from the street, adorned by a tunnel of trees and bushes, lead into an immense square courtyard, the standout architectural feature of the resort. The courtyard is surrounded on four sides by 46 foot high walls of rich crimson overlaid with a vertical lattice of dark wood. A dozen locally-crafted culturally significant bronze lion statues stand guard at stations around the courtyard, facing a serene, square black pool with an enormous fire furnace in the middle (see below.)
The entrance to the lobby is defined by a 19 foot high ivory, velvet curtain, parted for the guest as they enter. Welcoming guests are twelve unique wooden monk statues in prayerful poses, each handcrafted by a local artist. Across the lobby are large, picture windows with spectacular views of Lhasa, the Himalayans and beyond. As guests enter the lobby, the stunning views of the Potala Palace are framed by tall red lacquer columns (see below) that line the two sides of the lobby, providing a welcome, both expansive and intimate at the same time.
The St. Regis Lhasa Resort is also a showcase for original works of art from local and international artists. A large, six-panel painting by Christian de Labaudere is a focal point in the main lobby area. Each panel features an identical monochromatic profile of a Chinese woman upon which colorful custom jewelry has been placed. Across another wall in the lobby is an immense, colorful painted mural on burnt canvas depicting Tibetan scenes. A large stone table at the entry is a stage for dozens of locally crafted religious artifacts, including an ornamental Buddha bust, prayer beads and urns. In fact, the St. Regis has developed a partnership with Lhasa's artisan community to provide locally-produced art pieces for show and sale in the hotel's lobby and boutique.
With this resort also, the St. Regis is premiering its new brand, The Iridium Spa, the world's highest ( in altitude) luxury spa. The design highlight of the 11,700 sq.ft. spa is the Iridium Room, featuring an ornate gold-tiled pool (see below) guarded by an elaborate black and white Sea Serpent.
The spa includes traditional Tibetan herbal treatments and aromatherapy services using locally cultivated cypress and azalea leaves. The spa has been designed for guests to enjoy individual personal treatment suites with a private showers. The spa also features a Meditation Garden where local practitioners teach yoga, Pilates and meditation.
The St. Regis Lhasa lies within walking distance of the ancient Barhkor area, a shopping area offering prayer wheels, long-sleeve 'chubas', or, Tibetan traditional clothes, and Tibetan 'Thangkas' -- Tibetan scroll paintings. And, the St. Regis is also a short walk from the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism. It hosts the annual Great Prayer Festival, as well as all ceremonies of initiation for the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas. Resort guests may also rent a hybrid vehicle for a short drive to the Potala Palace, as well as Norbulingka , the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, and the Drepung Monastery. Other scenic Himalayan destinations --the Heavenly Lake Namtso and Yandra Yumtso Lake -- are also nearby.