Urban oasis

Toranomon Hills Spa provides a space for meditation in the center of the city

Located on the second and third floors of Toranomon Hills Residential Tower, Toranomon Hills Spa is the sixth Hills Spa facility—and, at about 2,000 square meters in floor space, is the largest. The spa features a 25-meter pool, jacuzzi, and a bathroom area with a dry sauna and plunge pool. There is also a gym offering the latest equipment, as well as fitness studios and body treatment rooms. As with the common and private areas and residences inside Residential Tower, the spa is the work of globally renowned interior design firm tonychi studio.

Photo by Junpei Kato
Text by Yoshinao Yamada
Translation by Soli Consultants, Inc.
Edit by Kazumi Yamamoto

The team submerged one set of custom-made tiles after another into the pool to see how they affected the color of the pool. Even the light fixtures on the pillars were custom made.

A temple-like pool offering wonder and serenity

The Oak Door at Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, and Park Hyatt Kyoto: these are just some of the renowned establishments in Japan with interiors designed by tonychi studio. These spaces possess a distinctive elegance, a product of a sensibility that is sensitive to every detail in an environment. It is this sensitivity that forms the core of studio founder Tony Chi’s design philosophy and provides these spaces with a sense of wealth. To explore the essence of the spaces created by the studio—in particular, Toranomon Hills Spa—we talk to William Paley, who was involved in designing the spa as creative director of tonychi studio.

The deck west of the pool is quite spacious and furnished with reclining chairs that visitors can relax on after a swim.

In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic The Secret Garden, 10-year-old Mary is guided by a robin redbreast to an old key that unlocks a walled garden. As she explores the garden, she further unlocks the emotions and memories that have been hidden within the garden. A similar sense of discovery awaits visitors at Toranomon Hills Spa, located on the second and third floors of Toranomon Hills Residential Tower. To create this effect, the approach—the entrance and changing rooms—has been designed to be inviting yet discreet. It is the quiet beginning of the story that heightens excitement for the space that lies beyond.

In the case of Toranomon Hills Spa, the “secret garden” is the pool. Visitors pass through the modest approach and head down to the second floor to enter a completely different world: a cavernous pool that cuts off all outside noise, light filtering in through covered windows that only offer glimpses of the outside world. “In its stillness and grandeur,” Paley says, “it has the quality of a temple—a place of repose and renewal, meant to elicit both a feeling of peacefulness and awe. It was important that the pool—whether used for exercise, for relaxation, or some combination of the two—and the journey to the pool were both beautiful and inspirational.” While certainly not hidden away like the garden in the novel, the pool is nevertheless capable of eliciting awe and wonder, especially when accessed by the comparatively intimate and private entrance area.

This is one of the four “changeable muses” by sculptor ShiHai that can be found along the pool’s perimeter.

This white, elliptical art piece is located in the center of the jacuzzi located near the pool. It is called “Ocean Meditation,” a name that suggests that the pool serves as a place of self-reflection.

The eye-catching tilework on this basin for rinsing one’s eyes after a swim stands out amid the otherwise subdued design elements of the pool.

The tiles along the walls and floor of the pool give the water a deep blue hue; reflections in its surface look almost like ink paintings. Statues have been installed around the poolside, enhancing the temple-ness of the space; meanwhile, certain structures boast eye-catching tilework that calls to mind the interiors of mosques. These artistic touches are the work of the sculptor ShiHai, who was born in Hangzhou, China, and studied both classical Western sculpture and traditional Chinese painting. He has applied a blend of the two styles to the four statues—each titled “changeable muse”—set into alcoves along the walls bordering the pool and to “Ocean Meditation,” a white, elliptical art piece placed in the center of the jacuzzi. The works seem to suggest a space for meditation where East and West coexist.

The “changeable muses” are a series of biologically accurate human figures distorted through simple, powerful movement. All four statues are holding their heads in both hands as if in deep thought. It is as though they are conveying the philosophy underlying the pool: that the act of swimming in a body of water that is at once in the city and not, existing in its own peaceful void, can clear one’s mind and lead one towards a moment of self-reflection. This is a space that allows one to stay connected to both the city and nature through the artificial and natural light entering through the windows while also staying connected to one’s inner self.

The gym is furnished with Technogym equipment. Note how the light and mirror panels in the walls have been placed in a chessboard pattern. The gym also has a counseling room that offers workout curriculums and health consultations.

Several pieces of gym equipment from Italian wellness company Technogym stand a comfortable distance from each other across the gym’s 200-square-meter floor. The layout—and the space itself—has been designed to give users the illusion of working out in their own personal space.

Toranomon Hills Residential Tower is like a single neighborhood where many different people live and work. This is why tonychi studio took pains to ensure that residents would feel liberated wherever they were in this enormous building. Facilities only available to residents—the Guest House, Library, and Kitchen—have been deliberately designed to make it enticing for residents to invite friends to stay, a practice common in the West but not yet widespread in Japan. The idea is to make residents feel as if the entire building is their home. There are private, semiprivate, and public areas in Residential Tower; the spa is open to the public.

“I find the lower tower apartments to be very romantic,” Paley says. “There is a coziness to being lower to the ground, in contrast to the splendor of being high over the city. We were able to take advantage of this in the gym and swimming pool areas to everyone’s benefit. In these moments of visual connection, the user’s sense of place is clear and the link to the neighborhood restored. But there is no aural link—the spaces are quiet and calm, the emotion of the space controlled and balanced. This is entirely appropriate for the spa, where the focus is inward: on the body, mind, and spirit. The quiet within and the connection to the surroundings are both healing and nourishing.”

An environment of consideration created from an assembly of small moments

Hanging at the end of this corridor is “Ohm VIII” by British artist Oliver Marsden. Inspired by nature and science, Marsden explores the visual beauty and tension that he finds in the light, water, and other elements of a natural landscape and depicts them in the form of abstract images.

Set into the wall at the end of this corridor is “Mind Border” by Indonesian artist Albert Yonathan Setyawan. It is an image composed of repeating and replicating geometric patterns.

“MARS23” by Yoriko Takabatake graces the wall at the end of this corridor. By applying numerous thread-like strands of paint in a weave-like pattern, she has, in a way, woven a new canvas on top of the original one.

Paley explains that the aesthetic and design choices for the spa flowed directly out of this concept. “The story develops around the function of the space, the context, and the user,” explains Paley. “While the function drove the spatial programming aspects of the design, we never lost sight of the fact that this spa is a part of the Toranomon Hills Residential Tower and must be infused with, and add to, the building ethos.”

This ethos is about being local but also global; about nature connecting directly to the architectural spaces; and about experiences and attentive services that are born out of these dualities. While the artwork placed throughout the building—and the spa—may be considered beautiful in their own right, they too are important elements of this ethos.

“The utmost care should go into every moment in design or service, no matter how small,” says Paley. “It is in the assembly of small moments that we create an overall environment of consideration and an offering of the heart, which very naturally leads to a feeling of serenity and comfort in the user. The choices of material application, the method of lighting, the consideration of sound: these are all extensions of this very important attention to detail.”

The reception counter features a chessboard pattern. As a whole, the entrance has a subdued design scheme to contrast with the dynamism of the space it leads into.

The furniture harkens back to Chi’s Taiwanese roots but has been designed with contemporary needs in mind.

At the same time, there is also individuality in the design. One might notice that many parts of the building, including the Toranomon Hills Spa reception counter, feature a chessboard pattern. This is a common motif for Tony Chi, who applied the same design choice throughout Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills and Park Hyatt Kyoto. The motif is also familiar to many Japanese, who may find it similar to the black-and-white ichimatsu pattern associated with the fusuma sliding doors of Shokin-tei Teahouse, located in the Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa.

“It is impossible to work in Tokyo and not be inspired by the long-standing tradition of craft that is so deeply embedded in the culture and aesthetics of Japan,” says Paley. “But there was never an intention to replicate the ichimatsu pattern. Of course, as designers using a language rooted in modernism, we cannot escape the greatly influential design of the Katsura Imperial Villa, which carries the seeds of modernism in its very rational, balanced composition. But this is not about replication. Rather, it is about learning and then applying what we learn with sensitivity and compassion. To look back and to look forward simultaneously: this is one of the ways in which we were profoundly influenced by our time and experience in Japan, and we were able to express this in our work.”

The importance of developing a new design for language for a new building

Patterned mirror glass covers the entrance façade. The design was influenced by Japanese kumiko-zaiku woodwork and even serves the screening and visual layering functions that are intrinsic to this Japanese craft.

This abstract artwork hanging from the ceiling of the second floor café was created to discreetly organize the numerous cables emerging from the ceiling. The island table in the center of the café is scheduled to be used for cooking classes and seminars.

The bases of the tables in the café are composed of four warped pieces of wood that align at the edges. At the foot of each table is an electrical outlet, serving the needs of the contemporary professional on the go. The benches also feature complex designs.

Tony Chi values history but is also considerate of contemporary needs related to function and appearance. His work is respectful of both the past and the present, but in a way that elevates design into artistic expression. This is why Tony Chi continues to lead the field of contemporary design. His approach is evident in the patterned mirror glass deployed around the Toranomon Hills Spa entrance façade, the elevator hall, doors, and other parts of the building. Although this design choice was influenced by Japanese kumiko-zaiku woodwork, Chi and his team were less interested in the aesthetic qualities of the craft and more in its traditional functions: screening and visual layering. The functionality, in turn, informed the team’s usage of kumiko-zaiku-like geometrical patterns. One example is the arabesque ceiling structure in the second floor café. While it has a pleasingly abstract look that resembles a large flower, it serves as a means for discreetly organizing the air conditioning equipment and recessed lighting. Functionality is why Chi continues to be inspired by the types of geometrical and organic patterns found in traditional textiles.

While Chi and his team were eager to experiment with their favorite motifs, they were also keenly aware of the new challenge presented by Toranomon Hills Residential Tower. “A new building is an opportunity for a new design language and a comprehensive vision,” Paley says. “It was important for us to determine the kind of design language we wanted to create and at what scale we could implement it inside this large building.”

Whether developing an entire space as with the pool or simply designing the details of a decorative item, Chi and his team approach every interior element in the same way: by thoroughly exploring its function, the experience it provides, and the needs it must meet and then shaping it based on those considerations. Such a meticulous approach means that the team often could not find what they needed in off-the-shelf products.

“Mori Building is not shy about making something unique,” Paley says. “As collaborators, we flow with this current. It is bold but also refreshing and exhilarating.”

William Paley

After serving for many years as creative designer for tonychi studio, Paley now works on his own. He is deeply knowledgeable about Japanese culture and forms due to his time spent living in Japan, where he was a carpenter’s apprentice.

Toranomon Hills Spa

Address 2nd & 3rd Floors, Toranomon Hills Residential Tower, 1-1-1 Atago, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-6809-1007
Hours 6:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Sat., Sun., and National Holidays: 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.)
Closed every 4th Thursday of the month
* The spa is open to members only. Membership requires an application process; for more information, please visit the spa’s website.