Mon 15 Jul 2019

Harmonious Design: Nippondaira Hotel, Shizuoka (Japan)

We remember good hotels because they are comfortable, accommodating, warm. We remember them because they have great staff, or because we had a good time there. 


Great hotels, however, go beyond that. A great hotel is more than a building; it is the combination of location and experience. They are the kind of places that feel distinct and unique, that allows us to focus on where we are, what we are doing, and what is around us. A great hotel is both welcoming and seamless, and beautiful on their restraint. 


The Nippondaira Hotel, located in the Shizuoka prefectural nature park, is one of those places. The building is located on a small hill on a nature preserve besides the city, overlooking Suruga Bay. Across the harbor, 50 kilometers away, lays Mount Fuji. Guests stepping into the main hall of the Nippondaira find themselves in front of a vast, 30-meter-wide and 10-meter-tall window that has Japan’s highest peak as background like they were staring at a giant canvas. The attention to detail at the Nippondaria is such that the main hall is not facing Mt Fuji head-on but instead, is slightly ajar, facing five degrees west. This small rotation is intentional, based on the aesthetic principles of asymmetry that characterize Japanese artistic traditions. Having the mountain off-center introduces a sense of tension, movement, of place that is at the center of a place like this. Appropriately, only the wedding hall is oriented in a way that the sacred mountain is at the center of the window – a way to express the energy of the moment for those momentous occasions. 


Dramatic views and great architecture are only the starting point to make the Nippondaira a truly remarkable hotel. Its designers wanted to create a building that enabled its guests to feel close to nature, a place where they could relate and understand the beauty around them. The hotel is a luxury experience, but it is not based on fancy draping or ostentation, but on an authentic connection with its surroundings. To achieve this, the building itself must fade into the background, putting what is outside of it front and center. 


One of the most striking features of the Nippondaira Hotel is its silence. Each and every room is equipped with a highly efficient, fully adjustable heating and cooling unit, part of the state-of-the-art, custom-designed Hitachi air conditioning system. Unlike conventional hotels, were climate control systems buzz and hum uncomfortably in the background, Hitachi created a system that is designed to operate almost silently. It achieves a noise rating level of NC25, equivalent to a radio or TV studio. Serenity, calm, tranquility is achieved not just with striking views, but by careful design.


The integration of the Nippondaira with its surroundings extends to how its architects and engineers designed a building that strives to be as ecologically conscious as possible and creates appealing, calm environments by embracing this principle. The hotel is fully, completely electrified, shunning the use of fossil fuels to reduce its energy footprint, reduce emissions and provide a cleaner environment. The structure incorporates several design features geared towards reducing energy consumption, including state-of-the-art, LED lighting, rainwater tanks to care its gardens, and automatic aluminium blinds on the South façade to reduce solar heat.


It is on its air conditioning systems, however, where the Nippondaira truly embraces innovation. Hitachi engineers have created a fully integrated system that combines high-efficiency Hitachi Air Cooled Module Inverter Chiller with cutting-edge Heat Recovery VRF units geared to reduce energy usage and further integrate the building within its environment. The hotel grounds include a 180 m-long geothermal tunnel system to circulate the air used by the air conditioning system. The tunnels temper the ambient air, lowering the energy needed by the heat pumps to cool or warm the building. The result is a system that is less reliant on machinery to control temperatures, increasing reliability, air quality and comfort. 


Climate and ambient control are visible and present across the building thanks to the light wells used across the structure. These wells provide natural sunlight to spaces inside the building using a combination of mirrored surfaces and careful design, creating an environment that is bathed in natural light even in the interior of the building. The wells also serve as ventilation system, increasing efficiency even further. 



Any complex installation is only truly effective if engineers have provided the tools to make use of its capabilities. At the Nippondaira, Hitachi Central Station enables hotel managers to control all cooling and heating systems from a centralized control point, giving them the option to individually monitor each room, hallway, and banquet hall across the facilities to optimize comfort and minimize energy use. Thanks to its careful design, the system has proven extremely reliable for its operators and completely invisible for guests. The combination of highly efficient air conditioning systems, use of advanced materials, and cutting-edge building design ensures that the Nippondaira is not just an outstanding accommodation for its guests, but also highly energy efficient. The Nippondaira uses 21.6% less energy than other facilities of comparable size, compared to previous Nippondaira Hotel building, before complete reconstruction. More importantly, this reduction in energy consumption is done in a way that enhances the experience of staying in the hotel, not detracts from it. 


Great hotels are always more than the sum of their parts. The Nippondaira is built upon this philosophy, fully integrating the building in its environment, designing spaces so they interact with what lies in and around it. To achieve that, it relies on highly efficient, carefully designed, well-engineered systems that are barely noticed by its guests, but ensure a pleasant, luxurious stay. Barely no one will notice the silence in a perfectly air-conditioned room while looking at Mt Fuji during the sunset. That silence, however, is part of what makes the stay truly special. 



Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning