Letter from Macau: ambitious architecture, daring design, and fast entertainment

Letter from Macau: ambitious architecture, daring design, and fast entertainment

The former Portuguese colony of Macau has been undergoing massive changes in the past decade and is seeking its future identity through urban rebranding and architecture. In June this year, the Cotai district saw the opening of Foster + Partners’ Apple Store at the Sands Cotai Central resort, introducing an alternative urban model for the area with simple and pure community spaces set within a quiet, bamboo-strewn plaza. Adjacent, is the Morpheus Hotel by Melco Resorts and Entertainment, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. As Viviana Muscettola, associate director at ZHA, puts it, the exoskeleton-bound high-rise composition offers ‘something new and special that specifically belongs to Macau’. Indubitably, all this regeneration has put Macau onto the architectural map.

By 2020, Macau will overtake Qatar’s position as the highest per-capita gross domestic product jurisdiction in the world, according to a report released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) earlier this month. The only place in China where casinos are legal, gambling and tourism are the main contribution to the the city’s US$50 billion GDP, and the 30.8 sq km special administrative region already has 40 casinos, 38,000 hotel rooms, hosting 33 million visitors each year and counting.

Swimming pool at Zaha Hadid Architects’ Morpheus hotel, Macau, China

Guests at Zaha Hadid Architects’ Morpheus Hotel will be able to enjoy Macau’s ambitious architecture up close

The rise of integrated resorts – mega mixed-use complexes including hotels, casinos, convention facilities, entertainment shows, theme parks, luxury retail and fine dining – was led by the American Las Vegas Sands company with the opening of The Venetian in 2007 (the year also marked Macau surpassing the Las Vegas Strip to become the world’s biggest gambling centre). This February, Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) added to the Macau portfolio with the MGM Cotai. The structure features eight cantilevering boxes combining into two separate hotel towers into a single abstract form of stacked, decorated volumes. In the middle of it is a large opening looking onto the city, which breaks down the overall scale. ‘From the outset, we wanted to design a structure that would really stand out on the skyline,’ says John Bushell, design principal of the New York firm.

More internationally acclaimed names will be adding to the already extravagant Cotai zone: SJM Holdings’ Grand Lisboa Palace will introduce the world’s first Karl Lagerfeld Hotel and Palazzo Versace; the American architect Peter Marino has been appointed by THE 13 hotel to design its US$1 billion property promises. ‘It’s about getting a larger and more complete experience, with a balanced mix of gaming and non-gaming elements,’ says Joanna Lui, assistant vice president of the Lifestyle Curation department of Galaxy Entertainment Group, where she is a third generation member of the family business. The company’s vision is to bring more distinctive and upmarket lifestyle concepts to an increasingly sophisticated Chinese clientele.

‘One could even say that in order for a development to be a good neighbour in Macau it must be a competitive neighbour and bring yet more variation of colour, form, shape, lighting and drama to this city’s now-famous skyline,’ say Keith Griffiths, chairman and global design principal of Aedas, and Richard Paul, partner of RSHP, the joint architects of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities (HKBCF). ‘For example, new developments in LED screens and digital mapping projections will enable buildings to have ever-changing and amorphous forms and colours; we anticipate that Macau will become the first city which dematerialises its buildings in a web of interactive and changing projections and facades’, they add. ’Macau will indeed become a truly Pop-Art Glitz Media City.’ §

Read more about Foster + Partners’ Apple store here and the Morpheus Hotel by Zaha Hadid Architects here.

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