The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd

Feature

A sense of balance

Combining Chinese and Western approaches to wellbeing, Octave Living aims to support a healthier, saner lifestyle, and balance profit with giving back. Christopher DeWolf finds out about the team behind the brand


Calvin Tsao and his brother Frederick are American, but they were both drawn to China from an early age. “Even though we’re immigrants, our parents had us steeped in Chinese culture,” says Calvin Tsao. After growing up in California, he made his way across the Pacific to work on I.M. Pei’s groundbreaking Suzhou Museum, the first foreign-designed project in a country that had just opened up after decades of isolation. His brother began to establish business links with the country of their ancestors.

Tsao eventually returned to the United States, where he founded an architecture firm, Tsao & McKown, with partner Zack McKown. Meanwhile, China transformed itself from one of the world’s poorest countries into one of its most powerful, but Tsao saw something was amiss. “I have a long view, having experienced the evolution of China over the last 30 years,” he says. “And while its economic and political presence and authority in the world is in ascent, their attention to social health has been spotty.”

Tsao was particularly alarmed that China seemed to have lost touch with some of the spiritual and cultural anchors that have held Chinese civilisation firm for centuries. One night, he and McKown pitched Frederick Tsao an idea: start a new company that would develop properties centred around cultural, physical and mental wellbeing. “My brother is an industrialist, he has a lot of resources, both political connections and financial strengths,” says Tsao. “We thought he could help. And indeed he took that idea to heart.”

GIVING BACK
The result is Octave Living, named for the interval between one musical pitch and another, as if to symbolise the switch from profit-focused development to something more enduring. “Can you make a sustainable endeavour that balances profit with giving back?” asks Tsao. “Octave is really about looking at economic models and seeing how we can do something that’s good for our society.”

Octave Living could provide a reference not only for Chinese development but for cities around the world, believes Tsao. Its message is straightforward: the key to a happy and successful society is not only more growth and more money, but a kind of personal and social equilibrium. It’s a philosophy to design and development that places wellness at the heart of everything.

With the help of Frederick Tsao, Tsao and McKown were able to launch Octave Living’s first project in 2016. The Living Room is a ‘holistic urban wellness centre’ located in a historic compound in Shanghai’s Former French Concession, a handsome district of streets lined by plane trees. Spanning 21,500 square feet, the centre includes space for early childhood development programmes, family therapy, art therapy, yoga, a restaurant and a small urban farm.

The architecture seems designed to soothe. Serenely minimal passages lead to spaces filled with natural materials like wood.

WELLNESS RESORT
The next project from Octave Living, which opened last year, is much larger and more ambitious. Sangha is a wellness resort located in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai famous for its classical Chinese gardens.

Rising over one million square feet on the shores of Yangcheng Lake, the complex includes an event space, a chapel, educational facilities, a 75-room hotel, a spa, and a wellness centre with meditation rooms and a clinic that integrates Chinese and Western medicine. It’s a space not so much for a holiday as for a period of self-improvement. When guests check into the hotel, they’re given a medical exam and greeted by a personal wellness coach.

LIVING THE EXPERIENCE
It’s an experience that some will enjoy full-time. Sangha includes 109 single-family houses and 89 flats, whose construction were required by the local government. Tsao says he and his brother never wanted to include free-standing houses, since they find them unsustainable by nature, but they soon realised that the profits from selling the residential units would help fund the rest of Sangha’s programme.

And it’s the programme that led the design, not the other way around. “Living Room and Sangha have different proportions of programmes,” says Tsao. “But the gist of it is mind-body wellness, which means healthy mind, healthy body.” In terms of design, “it means capturing natural conditions like light, breeze and temperature in the man-made design,” he says. One example is the Living Room’s farm.

“When you look down from the higher buildings on the complex you see this greenery, which we use to produce ingredients for our eateries,” explains Tsao. A number of studies have shown that even a glimpse of greenery has important psychological benefits.

Another example is the way both Sangha and the Living Room deal with internal circulation. “We put in a lot of stairs and corridors and internal bridges that make you perceive the spaces both orthogonally and diagonally,” says Tsao. “You’re always changing your point of view. It addresses qualities of navigation and wayfinding – engaging your senses about where you’re going, where you’re coming from, what you see along the way.”

Tsao & McKown led the design for Sangha, but they also invited two other architects to take part: Yung Ho Chang of Beijing’s Atelier FCJZ and Lyndon Neri of Shanghai-based Neri & Hu. “We had an agreement that they had to conform to certain basics – grey, white and earth tones,” says Tsao. All materials are sustainable, in order to keep the project’s carbon footprint as low as possible. “We don’t use any quarried stone,” says Tsao by way of example.

The invited architects were allowed one special material of their own. Chang chose a kind of rough terrazzo that was popular in Shanghai in the 1930s. Neri chose a grey brick tile that evokes the kind of brick used in Suzhou's gardens. "There's a series of walls he designed called the sanctuary that creates shadows. It's very beautiful,” says Tsao.

THE BIGGER PICTURE
It all adds up to an eye-catching setting, but Tsao says aesthetics are only part of the picture. “The buildings are just containers for content,” he says. “And it’s the content in which the revenue will finally come.” In a country that has changed so quickly and so thoroughly, Tsao is banking on the need for a pause – and a new kind of architecture that encourages reflection, health and well-being. “We want to let people know that this can be done,” he says. “It’s a new way to develop our cities and our world.”

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: TLEE Spas + Wellness
Having designed and managed some of the most renowned spas in the world, Tracy has carved out a reputation of steady leadership and innovation recognised throughout the industry.
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
Beckham signed for MLS franchise LA Galaxy a decade ago
Beckham has purchased the land he needs for a stadium
"Now’s the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for"

Miami soccer stadium land sale gets approval

Bill Bensley specified techniques and products used in the 13th century when designing the Hành Huong Yên Tu Village
"Our palette was pared down to basics"

The Vietnamese village being created using historic methods

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has been called ‘a work of haunting power’
Steven Holl is widely considered to be one of America’s most important and influential architects
" What sound is to music, light is to space "

The acclaimed architect speaks to CLAD about Donald Trump, Zaha Hadid and not being obedient

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
The suite is made for parties, social gatherings and hosting private dinners
Joyce Wang’s Hong Kong and London practice has worked extensively with Mandarin Oriental
"Our brief was to create an exclusive suite dedicated to extravagant entertaining"

Designs the 'ultimate retreat for socialising'

Studio Gang’s strategic plan for Baltimore’s National Aquarium sees existing facilities linked 
by a new urban wetland
Jeanne Gang studied at the University of Illinois and Harvard Graduate School of Design
"Understanding science is so important. People are denying climate change. It’s a crisis"

The architect behind the American Museum of Natural History’s major new wing on idealism and the potential of design

The Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, Manhattan, elevates the traditional carousel into a digitally-enhanced aquatic journey
Claire Weisz
"I prefer to be labelled a feminist architect than a female architect. I’d love to work with more women"

The WXY co-founder and urbanist with a passion for improving our public spaces

features
Christoph Ingenhoven has championed sustainable architecture for more than 30 years. He is Super Jury member at this year’s World Architecture Festival
"At Lanserhof, you spend your money and it’s difficult and exhausting, but you feel as though you’re doing something very good for yourself and maybe also for others "

How Ingenhoven’s experience as a guest informed the design of the Lanserhof medical spas

Carsten Höller’s twisting Isomeric Slides: an ususal exit route
Carsten Höller artist
"It’s impossible to travel down a slide without smiling"

Playful installations from the Belgian artist

Wellness: Room with a view
"Sam was such a champion for the team, and my goal is simply to carry that same torch"

As Blackberry Mountain resort opens in Tennessee, we find out why the project is a deeply personal one for owner Mary Celeste Beall

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 ...
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 ...
cladkit product news
Ojmar introduces battery-free electronic locker to cut carbon footprints in health clubs and spas
Ojmar says the batteryless lock is easy to install and features a user-friendly interface
Megan Whitby
Smart lock manufacturer Ojmar has released the OTS20 Batteryless – the first battery-free electronic locker lock on the market. The ...
CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
The event will allow buyers and suppliers to meet
Magali Robathan
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo ...
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
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd