ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo

Interview

Maria Warner Wong

Andrew Manns catches up with the co-founder of WOW Architects to get her views on the relationship between nature, wellness and ‘extraordinary sensory experiences’


Maria Warner Wong is the design director and co-founder of WOW Architects – a Singapore-based architecture firm whose most famous projects include the St Regis Maldives and the Anantara Resort in Malaysia.

Established as Warner Wong Design in 2000 by Maria Warner Wong and Wong Chiu Man, WOW’s clients include St Regis, Sheraton, Shangri La Hotels and Resorts, and Club Med.

WOW Architects were recently chosen to create a 338-room resort with biophilic elements in Singapore. The getaway, situated on a 4.6-hectare peninsula near Singapore’s Central Catchment Reserve, will feature 24 treehouses that “blur the boundaries between nature and living spaces”.

Here we speak to Maria Warner Wong about her Mexican childhood, her passion for the environment and her mission to create beautiful spaces that educate their users.

Can you sum up WOW Architects’ philosophy?
Our goal is to create extraordinary sensory experiences that are rooted in culture, memory and place. We design for all the senses and try to create an awareness in the people who use our spaces of their surroundings.
The people who inhabit our buildings are very aware of nature; they are very connected to their environment. We like to try and create specific moments of connection with nature in the rituals of daily life; if you’re staying in a resort hotel it could be that moment when you walk from your room to the lobby or to the public areas or the beach.

We want the users of our spaces to be more aware of the natural world, more of the time – we feel that sense of awareness can actually heal people. When you feel connected to nature you feel calmer, you can better manage your anxieties and you are more likely to work to protect the planet.

How did that philosophy come about? What are your inspirations?
I think it’s just very much my nature. From the time when I was very young, I was interested in the minute details of the natural world. I’ve always been fascinated by flowers and little creatures – the small details of my environment. The desire to cultivate and care for it is at the core of what grew into a real passion for the environment. In my education I learned things about how terrible our industry is for the world, and I wanted to do something to change that.

I think that the best way to change attitudes is to make everyone notice their world, notice its vulnerability and realise that they can change their behaviour so that their impact on the planet is a more positive one.

You grew up in Mexico. Did that play an important role in shaping your ideas?
My link to Mexico is very, very important and very strong. The culture I grew up in has completely formed who I am.
It has to do with the lifestyle – it’s a way of living and interacting with people. No matter how long I’m away from Mexico, those aspects of me will never change. Once you have that in your heart it never goes away.

The St Regis Maldives resorts is one of your best known projects. How did you approach it?
In the beginning, we were really inspired by everything we saw: crabs, whale sharks, shells from the reefs, the corals, all these trees and their unique root systems. We wanted to delight the senses and raise awareness in guests of the importance of sustainability.

We took the island’s four different ecologies as a starting point: the lagoon, the beach, the coastline and the jungle. Our aim was to bring about an awareness of each one in the resort’s guests.

In the lagoon you have the reef. On the coastline you have the corals and the rocks. In the jungle you have the huge variety of plants. It’s fascinating how each of these ecologies coexists in one tiny little atoll.

There’s so much one can learn from any natural setting. Just sit there long enough and pay attention and observe it. Take the rain for example; it never rains the same way in two places. In developed cities, rain is something you need to protect yourself from and get away from, because it’s cold and uncomfortable. It’s different in Bali, the Maldives, Singapore. You can feel the rain on your skin. You have these different winds, different seasons, different conditions with the ocean and the tides, and the smells of the sea – everything is different!

That’s what I mean when I talk about extraordinary sensory experiences – our aim at WOW Architecture is to design buildings that help awaken the sensation of being connected with our environment.

WOW selected to design Singapore eco resort
Wong Chiu Man

WOW Architects were selected in May to design a new 338 room ‘conscious stay’ resort in Mandai, Singapore.

The 4.6-hectare site for the resort is on a peninsula near Singapore’s Central Catchment Reserve, and currently houses Singapore Zoo’s back-of-house facilities. The resort will be carefully integrated into the site, which will be enriched through the planting of native tree species, and will feature 24 treehouses, designed in the shape of seed pods, as well as elevated walkways through the forest.

"The architecture and interior design will showcase Mandai’s biodiversity to educate guests" - Wong Chiu Man

Speaking on the project, WOW’s co-founder, Wong Chiu Man, said: “Our building and its systems adopt a biophilic attitude by blending with and becoming a part of nature, all the while creating an engaging and comfortable environment for guests.”

He added: “Native flora and fauna served as inspirations for the resort’s design, and the architecture and interior design will showcase the biodiversity of Mandai to educate guests.

“When completed, the building and the landscape will become a holistic, immersive experience.”

According to Mike Barclay, Group CEO of developer Mandai Park Holdings – the scheme’s developer – the resort will also encourage guests to take an active role in wildlife conservation.

“Through carefully crafted design features and programmed activities the resort experience will encourage guests to be conscious of the plants and animals in the rainforest,” he said.

The retreat is expected to be completed by 2023.

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: TechnoAlpin
TechnoAlpin is the world leader for snowmaking systems. Our product portfolio includes all different types of snow-making equipment for outdoor and innovative holistic solutions for indoor applications.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
Ando will recreate the process he followed for his acclaimed renovation of the building in Venice, which he showcased with models at the international architecture biannale in the city
Tadao Ando architect
"The most important challenge is maintaining this old classical context"

Renovating the Bourse de Commerce for Francois Pinault's Paris art museum

Landscape design: Back to nature
Alan Metcalfe
"When people are a bit scared, they gather together"

Featuring a vibrating glass platform and one of the US’s longest tree canopy walks, Whiting Forest has been designed to bring visitors closer to nature and to one another

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
UNStudio are designing a cultural centre as part of BIG’s EuropaCity development
Bos studied history of art in London and urban and regional planning at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands
"I like art that is against the mainstream, slightly off, with a twist"

UNStudio’s co-founder on the unexpected challenges of designing Australia’s tallest skyscraper

The Fangshan Tangshan Museum
Decq has been recognised for raising the profile of women in architecture
"Things have improved, but not enough"

On women in architecture

The design of the Stadio Della Roma is inspired by Rome’s Colosseum
Meis has helped design some of the world’s most successful stadiums
"It’s one of the tragedies of the US that so many of our stadiums get replaced after 20 years"

The Everton and AS Roma stadium architect talks through the challenges and rewards of sports facility design

features
Thomas Woltz
"I am very proud of stewarding the largest public space to be built in Manhattan in a century"

The Wall Street Journal’s Design Innovator of the Year on designing the gardens at Hudson Yards and looking to the Native Americans for ideas on how to create a resilient future

Espai Barça will feature a range of retail, food and beverage and social areas; Camp Nou's capacity will be increased to around 105,000 people
"Whatever your allegiances, you have to admit that no football club has a brand quite like FC Barcelona. "

FC Barcelona is taking on its rivals with its ambitious €600m expansion project Kim Megson speaks to the architects involved

Ban’s emergency paper partition system
Shigeru Ban won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014
"It is important to respect the characteristics, trademark or tradition of the place"

The post-disaster work of his Voluntary Architects Network

cladkit product news
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
cladkit product news
Jaffe Holden helps bring Academy Museum of Motion Pictures alive
Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics for the Academy Museum
Magali Robathan
Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics and audio/video design services for the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion ...
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
cladkit product news
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo