Co-creators who shape their visions and transform them into value.
Left: Astrid Klein
Middle: Yukinari Hisayama
Right: Mark Dytham
Klein Dytham architecture
Mass production cannot produce inspiration.
Klein Dytham architecture (KDa) is a multi-disciplinary design practice known for architecture, interiors, public spaces and installations. We interviewed co-founders Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, as well as Yukinari Hisayama, on the thought processes which generate unique experiences.
Beauty is in designs which are unique and timeless.
Astrid Klein (“Klein”): Although we are designers, we always imagine ourselves as the customers who use the facility, thinking from the customer’s perspective. We ask ourselves what kind of place we would want to stay in if we were the guests, and what we would want to do there. This approach never fails to reveal the underlying desires of guests which we could never have identified if we had listened only to the management’s needs.
Yukinari Hisayama (“Hisayama”): And at the root of our thinking is our drive to create the unprecedented, to take on new challenges.
Mark Dytham (“Dytham”): Our work with Hoshino Resorts began with the designing of ZONA, the garden chapel at RISONARE Yatsugatake. The request was to create an unprecedented kind of chapel, an assignment which we embraced and very much enjoyed.
Hisayama: Weddings at the time occasionally featured gimmicky props like having the newlyweds appear on aerial platforms. But such mechanisms often had nothing to do with architecture, and were out of line with customers’ preferences and sensibilities. If we were going to design a wedding chapel, we wanted to make sure the process of the ceremony was meaningful. We identified elements which didn’t feel quite right, and thought of ways to make them wonderful.
Klein: Basically, buildings are massively expensive to make. A fashionable piece of architecture may look glamorous at first glance, but despite the huge investment, it may be outdated in a year. This would be a tragedy for owners and management. Gimmicks are little more than party stunts, but by contrast, “timeless” things which transcend temporality are always perceived as beautiful. Buildings with authentic meaning, with beauty in the meaning – such beauty is what leads to timeless appeal.
Hisayama: Creating things that are entirely outrageous is actually not so hard. While uniqueness matters, there is no meaning if it’s overly contrived. In some ways, we are aiming for the everyday. But it gets tedious when that’s the only thing you’re thinking about. The starting point is whether it’s fun, whether it’s unique, and then we step back and take another look as to whether it’s timeless. Our design process goes back and forth between the two foci of uniqueness and timelessness.
Klein: Also, we develop our designs in a process of consultation with our staff as to what they find interesting. We all treat one another as equals, offering ideas and exchanging sketches. With many of our projects, we can’t even remember whose idea it originally was, because ideas keep on evolving in the process.
Hisayama: And as we continue conversing, ideas will emerge out of somewhere, ideas that everyone can get excited about. These are powerful keywords and concepts that turn us all in the same direction, even though we all started out with differing viewpoints. We feel these keywords and concepts can excite everyone, not just ourselves, and we work to strengthen the core of the idea as much as we can.
Klein: Exactly. It’s not a linear process. At first, there are countless ideas, misty, shapeless, intangible, but then it’s like the mist gradually condenses into droplets. The process is like distilling whiskey.
Dytham: Plus, maybe it’s not that logical, either. Though of course there is logic.
Hisayama: There is always a reason for the final outcome, but the logic behind the reason is not the same as the “logical” we use when we talk about “logical thinking.” Whereas logical thinking can be described and understood with words, a good idea has certain parts that everyone feels is good on a sensory level.
ZONA, the garden chapel of RISONARE Yatsugatake designed by KDa
Mass production does not beget inspiration.
Klein: Recently, it seems to me that the hotel industry in Japan is leaning a little toward the stiff and formal. This atmosphere makes us all the more determined to be more flexible and focus really hard on what makes things fun. Fun isn’t about the size of guestrooms or the degree of luxury provided – it’s about the experience, a special experience that cannot be had anywhere else. If there is some small element of surprise or wittiness, so much the better. Since hotel stays tend to be relatively short, you can do some rather extreme things, which I hope to capture successfully in the design. One thing that’s fun to do is to incorporate unusual colors and bold graphics into the spaces. Some of the guestrooms at RISONARE Yatsugatake feature murals of graphics depicting the Yatsugatake Mountains, which may not be necessary for the locals, but which visitors will find interesting. This is something that can’t be done anywhere else, and leads to localness.
Hisayama: Nice-looking rooms can be created anywhere. We like to think of what we can do only in that location, and make sure some element of our creation connects to the surroundings.
Klein: That’s why we feel so much in tune with hotels that believe experiences lead to enjoyment. At RISONARE Atami, we similarly identified and presented as many Atami-related features as we could, such as “Sea and Sky” and “Fireworks.”
Dytham: We want to superimpose locality and experiences to do things that are impressive, even from a regional point of view. We also often think about branding for the whole, not just the architecture.
Klein: It’s nice when there’s a message that people can take home. The message is amplified when it connects and resonates with people. It’s important for the images to continue, even after the guests leave the hotel and return to their daily lives. That’s why it’s so crucial for it to be unique or iconic. We want to set our creations apart a little from ordinary floors, walls, and ceilings. Isn’t it important to have something that remains in your memory, that moves your heart, your emotions, in this day and age? When I look around and see everyone so busy, I sometimes wonder whether they’re truly enjoying themselves. Seeing nice things; going home and talking about how nice it was somehow; wanting to visit again; telling friends and family about it – ordinary office buildings don’t generate that kind of sentiment or cycle, now do they?
Hisayama: In Atami, there are fireworks going on almost every month, yet I don’t think any of the hotels there had ever focused on fireworks. In our Japanese dining room, our fireworks-themed booths can also serve to inform visitors of the local fireworks festivals.
Klein: The fireworks-inspired booths posed significant difficulties for us, as they had to be hand-painted and such. But precisely because they are not mass-produced but have a hand-crafted feel, they are capable of evoking emotions in people who see them. Mass-produced things cannot generate such feelings.
Hisayama: I pay a lot of attention to the visitor’s unguarded reaction in the first moment of contact. Lay people with no expert knowledge will receive a direct impression and will remember only whether it was fun or awesome for them. If we succeed in amazing the guests and making them want to visit the “fireworks place” again, then that should be a win-win for the city as well.
RISONARE Atami’s Japanese restaurant “Hanabi (Fireworks),” inspired by the Atami Sea Fireworks Festival.
What we want to design going forward,
And what designs will we need to fulfill going forward.
Klein: What I’m interested in right now is living more enjoyably. Most everyone lives in a single detached home or condominium, but I get the feeling that they aren’t able to expand their lives beyond their own selves. Don’t people feel like having dinner with the neighbors once in a while, or having a weekend barbeque? Personally, I’m not into cooking all that much, but there are people who are. Wouldn’t they enjoy a condo where people can reside and gather together, for instance with shared kitchens? When we designed Soma City Home-for-All, I realized just how important it was to have spaces where someone is always there, doing something. Children might drop by after school to do their homework, or elderly people might spend some time there, and it’s somehow an enjoyable place. Architects should incorporate more of these kinds of spaces, where communities develop, into their buildings going forward. I’m sure there are many issues we would have to iron out, like how to allocate the building management fees, but having such spaces might be helpful for young people living alone, as they would have someone to talk to when they are feeling down. Living like that would surely be more enriching than what we are doing now.
Dytham: What I would like to do is create hotel chains across Japan that are configured in new ways. This country is full of beautiful places with breathtaking scenery, but many of the hotels are quite ordinary and rather meh. So I feel it would be nice to have amazing, millennial-designed hotels, not only for people to vacation at but also to use as a work space for a week or so. Japan has the potential to make this a reality.
Klein: That would be great. In Italy, there are many “village hotels” where entire small villages with aging populations have been turned into hotels. One house might have the front desk and a café, and other houses would have the guestrooms.
Hisayama: Along the lines of towns and villages, my aspiration is to create shopping streets. I want to restore fading towns to their former bustle. Already, in some regional cities, young people are starting to operate “shopping street hotels” using empty houses. But going forward, not all of the visitors will be Japanese, so there is sure to be a wider range of things we can do. I want to work with local people to think of ways to renew the streets. It should be a lot of fun to engage in with a positive attitude.
Dytham: It would be nice to have not only hotels but mixed spaces like the SuperDeluxe that we’ve operated for so long, featuring live performances, art galleries, and so on. This is especially relevant today because smartphones let everyone, including foreign tourists, make reservations and move around much more easily than before.
Klein: The millennials are no longer interested in antiquated ideas of luxury; instead, they place value on experiences. Experiences are the new luxury. Going forward, we want to value the curation of experience in our designs.
The Home-for-All Project builds hubs for the community. KDa designed the Soma City Home-for-All in Fukushima.
A multilingual, multi-disciplinary design practice known for architecture, interiors, furniture, public spaces and installations. Co-founded by RCA certified Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in 1991. Highly regarded worldwide, with many awards including Design for Asia, World Architecture Festival, and Wallpaper Design Award. Creators of PechaKucha Night, a creative event which now runs in more than 1,100 cities around the world.
- Major projects
- Daikanyama T-SITE/Tsutaya Bookstore (2011), GINZA PLACE (2016), Open House (Bangkok, 2017)