Architect Shigeru Ban discusses the design of this hotel and how it was purpose-built to blend into its natural environment

Translated as “forest bathing”, the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku celebrates the appreciation of nature, through a leisurely walk and other activities in the woods. It involves an immersive and restorative process communing with nature; a calming experience that seems right at home at the Shishi-Iwa House, a boutique hotel in Karuizawa, Japan.

Designed by Shigeru Ban Architects and developed by HDHP GK, the property comprises 10 guest rooms, each designed as meditative retreats; rooms on the ground floor are connected to a private garden, while rooms on the upper floor feature balcony terraces.

To minimise the impact on the environment, the property has been built around the existing trees; the result is a unique curved exterior that’s at one with nature. Comprising timber and plywood panels, the pre-fabricated structure was transported in sections to be assembled on site. It also integrates elements of Shigeru Ban’s renowned use of paper tubes in its furnishings, while emphasising the soothing views of its surroundings.

For this project, I was interested in developing a distinct design language befitting its beautiful location,

says Shigeru Ban, who designed both the exterior architecture and interior of this project. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect weighs in on its design:

What is the design concept for this project?
Shigeru Ban (SB) 
The brief from HDHP is to create Shishi-Iwa House as a resort to reflect and restore energy. In Karuizawa there are many strict rules and guidelines to construct a hotel, ranging from shapes and pitches of roofs, colours, and exterior materials, preservation of trees and nature. All of these restrictions influenced the design of this unique timber hotel.
Timber is the main material for the interior and exterior space. To create a coherent atmosphere throughout the property, we chose to use a unified selection of tones for the timber finish of the structure, furniture, finishing material, and exterior timber cladding. In order to enhance the ambience of each room, we used warm lighting and diffused the direct light source as much as possible.
How does this project connect with your design philosophy?
From the beginning, we found similarities between the humanitarian works I have done so far and the client’s concept of social hospitality. To realise this philosophy, we have developed shared community rooms and layered room access from separated clusters. I also chose to incorporate my paper and wood furniture as they are related to the objectives of the property.

Which design element of this property are you most proud of?
I am proud of the unique openings we designed for each room to blend the interior and exterior atmosphere at the hotel and its garden. These include the big timber door at the entrance, timber sliding doors by the garden and glass shutters at the Grand Room, which showcase the vibrant Karuizawa surroundings alongside the modest timber design; guests can feel a coherent atmosphere throughout the entire property. 

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