Thomas Ito

We design buildings for a lifetime: an exclusive with Thomas Ito

Thomas Ito, Principal Architect for Gensler, has led many mixed-use, entertainment and hotel projects across the world. While discussing his attitude to design, he speaks about the architectural conceptualisation of the Sapphire Residences project, the latest addition to Colombo’s skyline.

Img.1 The projected view of Sapphire Residences emerging and transforming the skyline of Colombo as seen from Galle Face

What is your design ethos?

My design ethos revolves around understanding a person’s motivation and how he or she uses space to create a better lifestyle and be aspirational. I believe that stimulates space, design and form. It must understand the community that inhabits the space, the client and environment. We have a social and environmental responsibility to the planet, particularly at a time when phenomena such as climate change have reached a critical point. We must be sensitive to the elements that affect the lives of people. The universal truth is that we design buildings not just for today, but for a lifetime.

Since the renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel in the 1990s, you have made your mark in the US and today your practice is international with many landmark projects.

…I believe what drives a landmark is when a community embraces the building and it enhances lives. Sapphire Residences, the shiny jewel of Sri Lanka, is the type of project that is important to me and the firm. This is because we can make a difference in an emerging country like Sri Lanka. We did the same with the Shanghai Tower in China and the LA Live in Downtown Los Angeles.

How have you brought in the Experience Index into the Sapphire Residences project? What other elements were considered?

The programming of this space is a partnership between Gensler and ITC. We brought a world of experience on mixed-use projects. ITC was open to our suggestions and knowledge. When there is a hotel, residences, offices and retail spaces, the setting is active and communal 24/7. That was important and we have accomplished that synergy successfully in the past. Sapphire Residences is an incredible site, and we wanted to build a community for Colombo.

An aspect we considered was to maximise on ocean views resulting in the triangular shape. There is no back to the building, its 360̊ degrees with 75 per cent ocean views. We curved the building to create great balcony terraces. It was also important that people always witnessed a designed space…

What did you draw from the architectural heritage of Sri Lanka?

…We looked at contextual architecture and Sri Lankan architecture, bringing aspects of its influences, heritages, and culture into the project. But we did that in the modern context to represent the Colombo of the future. Those influences could be seen in the tea gardens, greenery and ocean. The project was also inspired by the work of architect Geoffrey Bawa.

As an international architect what drove you to agree to design a project in Sri Lanka?

It was important to align ourselves with a company like ITC, which has a vision for responsible luxury, with a purpose. What inspires us is location, location and location! Of course, we wanted to be inspired by this great country and embrace all its cultural influences to create something special. That is what architects strive to do.

What inspires you?

It is people who inspire me… 

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Project Design:
Gensler & ITC
Project Name:
Sapphire Residences

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