Musings on Design Wordplay

In the frenzied nature that is Hong Kong vacation planning, I was researching new properties to stay in the famed Niseko ski resort for the next ski season just as this one ends. Really, I am a creature of habit having stayed with J-Sekka for the past five years. However, changes are afoot at that property which forces me to investigate new options.

So I cast a wide net and came across Full Circle whose building is not a circle but a sloped wall on one side to take advantage of the famed volcanic views. Then I came across a new term- “industrial alpine” which the booking company says is “not bandied about too often.” No kidding!

Closer inspection reveals raw concrete walls, wooden flooring and an exterior slate facade. My first thought was, “Leave your walls unfinished and tack on the term ‘industrial’.  Now that is audacious!”


Please don’t misunderstand.  While Full Circle is attractively modern, there are areas that seem a bit bare bones.  This got me thinking about design terms as I questioned how much of this bare bone look was design vis-a-vis budget or simply misplaced judgement.


My fellow blogger Sabine Hirt mentioned work in a similar vein by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.  Reviewing this master’s work, one quickly sees that while his approach is stark and pared down, line and form are at the forefront of creating his compelling designs.

Just look at a few of his selected works below cited by The Pritzker Architecture Prize and I am sure that you would agree.

A selection of images from and

According to Time Magazine’s coverage of the said prize, the St. Nikolaus von der Flue Chapel “…was erected with a vertical formwork of spruce branches and trunks. Concrete was then poured in layers, one per day for 24 days to produce a smooth exterior but a ribbed surface inside. Then the wood formwork was set afire, which scorched and roughened the interior concrete.” Wow!

There is nothing unfinished about Zumthor’s work and it doesn’t matter what design term is used to describe it.  There is simply a certain je ne sais quoi or intangible synergy and play on contrasts for it to achieve the right impact and function.  These are functional sculptures on a grand scale.

Industrial alpine?  I say Great Design.

-By Katherine

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