Communicating a unique culture only found here

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

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On 7th February 2014, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, was opened on the banks of the Kamogawa River, a location with a panoramic view of the Higashiyama Mountains.
Hiroaki Otani, who was in charge of the hotel’s design, represents the design team in speaking about the concept and work that went into the construction of this hotel



Building a hotel in a place of cultural traditions

The area along the Kamogawa River, where you find The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, was where the Heian nobility of old located their villas so they could appreciate the moon rising over Higashiyama. This site was also the base for the wealthy merchant clan, the Suminokura family, since the Momoyama period, and it became the residence of Baron Denzaburo Fujita upon entering the Meiji era. These people served a role akin to a cultural producer in their respective ages. This location is truly a land of cultural tradition, exceptional even within Kyoto.
When this peerless piece of property came into the possession of Sekisui House, its chairman, Isami Wada, strongly wished to create a “private guest house” here, as a worthy alternative to the Kyoto State Guest House that welcomes guests of state. Meanwhile, The Ritz-Carlton, a global name in luxury hotels, desired a hotel of unrivaled stature at a location that is exceptional even within Japan. All the parties involved in the construction of this hotel had one common aspiration: to create a hotel where the guests can sense that “Japan has such extraordinarily attractive places like this; Japan’s beauty is truly exceptional; and the quintessence of that beauty lies in Kyoto.” In the design stage, we worked with the staff of Sekisui House under the slogan of “beauty with age,” to create a design for a building that could slip quietly into this environment as if it had always been standing there.

We wanted to communicate an air of beauty

One of the beauties of Japan that we wanted to communicate was the pure, simple, and dignified “air” of Japan. This is a different kind of air than that of other resorts.
 This air is expressed most notably in the border areas straddling the exterior and interior of the building. For instance, in the intricate details of the balustrade surrounding the building, the thin concrete soffits, and the slight upward curvature at the edge of the eaves. These elements compose the building and maintain a fine sense of tension. We succeeded in creating an architectural expression that can only be found in Japan by mobilizing the full skills of Japan’s superb tradesmen.

Not ornamental, the thin concrete supporting the roof become the soffits.

The very slight upward curve at the edge of the eaves adds a tension to the entire structure.

Communicating a unique culture only found here

As previously mentioned, this was the place selected by the Heian nobility to appreciate the sight of the moon rising above Higashiyama. Higashiyama presented a vista that was truly an epitome of the culture of Kyoto. We wanted the hotel guests to also enjoy this unique, traditional culture; we wanted them to see how Higashiyama changes its expression as the day progresses. To this end, the entire aboveground section of the 130-meter building facing the river was made into guest rooms, and large single-pane windows were installed to all possible extent. By placing the banquet rooms, restaurants, pool, and other such facilities in the basement floors, the building was able to meet the strict height restrictions. This low-rising building maintains a human scale that blends into the environment of Kyoto. This is a sense of scale that cannot be found in other major cities of Japan like Tokyo or Osaka, and here, as well, the unique atmosphere of Kyoto is apparent.

The exterior incorporates the simple straight lines and sense of tension of the traditional sukiya style of architecture. The 130-meter long frontage faces the river

A hotel that is worthy of representing Kyoto and Japan

The builders of this hotel were not famous craftsmen. They were all tradesmen and engineers who are usually engaged in the building of regular structures. These people gathered together here and under the tacit understanding of communicating the beauty of Japan, they built a special space and air that differed from the usual--a hotel that deserves to be called a “private guest house.” Everyone engaged in this work from the design to all stages of construction had to endure many trials and tribulations. But we also felt an incredible joy when the building was completed. (Talk by Hiroaki Otani, Executive Officer, Principal, Architectural Design Department)

The aura created by the roof is indispensable in Japanese architecture.


Lobby floor atrium

The drawing room of the former Ebisugawa-tei (residence of Baron Fujita) was reassembled here.

  • Hiroaki Otani

    Hiroaki Otani

    Chief Design Officer
    Senior Executive Officer
    Principal, Commons Group,
    Project Development Department

    Hiroaki Otani joined Nikken in 1986. He specializes in architectural design. He has produced numerous works reflecting intimate knowledge of Japanese culture, as exemplified by the Layer House, which won the AIJ Prize. Recently, he has designed numerous projects reflecting local cultural aspects, both in Japan and in other countries. His project designs include The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, the Imperial Household Agency Office of the Shosoin Repository, The Museum of Art Ehime, the Keyence Corporation Head Office, and an expansion in capacity for the Hajj at the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He has experience in a wide range of architectural design fields, and has participated in numerous competitions with distinction. He is a registered first-class architect, a registered architect of the Japan Institute of Architects (JIA), a member of the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ), and a visiting professor at Kobe University.

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