March 1, 2010

A Voyage of the Senses: Six Senses Spa Opens In Paris’ Westin Hotel

Thailand. Vietnam. Sri Lanka. The Maldives. You’d need much more therapy than a hot-stone massage if you ever mistook the 1st Arrondissement of Paris—aristocratic and old-world—for the lush tropical landscapes where the Six Senses Resorts & Spas chain has built its reputation for ethno-chic pampering and location-sensitive design. (Six Senses refers to the usual five, plus the “elation” attained when they are all in perfect balance.) But when the prestigious Bangkok-based outfit opened its first spa in France, David & Lampros proved that it’s possible to transpose a feeling of sun-soaked nature into 2,700 square feet at the Westin Paris hotel, all the while imbuing the project with a recognizably Gallic touch.

Pierre David and John Lampros installed floor-to-ceiling windows to give passersby a virtually unobstructed view into the ground-level vestibule of what’s now officially called the Six Senses at Rue de Castiglione. Setting the tone are two natural, neutral materials from warmer climes: a caramel-colored Brazilian hardwood and a white Greek marble, mixed with concrete in a dimpled compound. The architects chose oak both for a row of chunky stools and for built-in cabinets as minimalist and rectilinear as a Donald Judd.

Bringing arrivals down to the basement spa, a floating staircase with a typically belle epoque wrought-iron balustrade descends alongside a plant wall commissioned from the firm of Patrick Blanc, who was responsible for the much more massive version at the Ateliers Jean Nouvel–designed Musée du Quai Branly. The specific plant species used for the spa’s plant wall are from Malaysia, the Philippines, and other sunny distant locales. However, the greenery might remind visitors of the very Parisian Jardin des Tuileries, visible down the street. And gardens in general are symbolic of the spa’s mission, David says: “A garden needs a gardener to maintain it, just as human beings need other people to take care of their bodies. The spa staff are our gardeners.”

Gardens are a recurring theme for David. As a finalist in the design competition for New York’s World Trade Center Site Memorial, he proposed a Garden of Lights. Two separate gardens, each with hundreds of flowers, would have been set in the footprints of the twin towers with an orchard in between, and a gardener from a foreign nation would have been appointed every year to oversee the project.

Other than the green of the spa’s plant wall, the only splash of color amid the muted tones comes from the blue of the sky projected on a sidewall. Courtesy of a video camera on the hotel’s roof and nine projectors on the spa’s ceiling, that one long wall is constantly alive with a diffuse panorama of the cityscape as seen in real time. Light shifts on the adjacent Place de la Concorde. Clouds drift over the Eiffel Tower. Sun glints on the Obélisque de Louxor and the dome of the Palais Royal. Birds fly. Shadows lengthen. “We slipped the sky into this underground world, so you’re always in contact with Paris,” Lampros says, adding that the effect places the city “in a conversation with far-off landscapes.”

To continue that conversation, David & Lampros replaced the floor’s existing faience with unpolished striated granite from Mozambique to evoke “sea rocks or black sand,” David explains. Resting dramatically on this surface, end to end, are the two pods that house the treatment rooms: long, rounded volumes wrapped in slender bands of oak, chosen for its pliability. Though the pods were actually inspired by some hollow gourds that David found in Thailand, the shapes now remind him of “beached whales,” he adds. The belly of each whale is divided into three Zen-simple chambers with backlit walls like curved shoji screens or the inside of a lantern by Isamu Noguchi.

Thanks to the full-height glazing on one side of each pod, the treatment beds have a clear view of the cityscape projected on the wall immediately outside. Paris comes even closer, too. Six Senses at Rue de Castiglione offers a facial that involves honey collected on the roof of the Palais Garnier opera house, made by bees bearing pollen from the Tuileries.

Photography by Eric Laignel.

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