Famed Architect Bill Bensley Spins Tall Tale of a Bygone Era with Conceptual Design Narrative of Stunning JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay
Few names carry more cachet than Bill Bensley’s when it comes to resort design in Asia. Dubbed as the “king of exotic luxury resorts” by TIME Magazine, Bensley has an impressive portfolio of hotel properties that are unconventional and theatrical with an impeccable attention to detail. Bensley’s latest project, JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, continues to build on this already impressive legacy with a property that delivers the enriching experiences and intuitive service that every JW Marriott guest comes to expect, in the fantastical setting of a fictional former university.
JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay’s design narrative was developed around the concept of a mythical academy of learning, honouring French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who laid the groundwork for Darwin’s theory of evolution. As the story goes, ‘Lamarck University’ was the intellectual and educational pinnacle of Phu Quoc in the early 1900’s and attended by the island’s French colonists before finally closing in the 1940’s.
To imbue the whimsical design with authenticity, Bensley’s team travelled across Europe to source over 5,000 original antiques and artifacts for the resort. Guests can expect to discover vintage furniture, teaching paraphernalia, carpentry tools, prints and sketches showcasing the evolution of mankind and nature, as well as other hidden gems throughout the well-crafted and intuitively designed resort.
The JW Marriott brand is globally renowned for its intuitive service and commitment to providing guests with truly enriching luxurious experiences and the partnership with Bill Bensley complements the designer’s philosophy of creating hotels that demonstrates his passion for learning. His vision is for JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay to become a destination where guests leave inspired.
“Many people consider university to be the most memorable time of their lives. I’ve always wanted to create a resort with this theme because of the profound influence my university studies had on my work. The scale of this project, together with the spectacular setting, gave me the perfect opportunity to bring the story of Lamarck University to life ensuring that guests leave richer than when they arrive, a core expectation for JW Marriott guests.”
Overseeing the master planning and design of the entire property, Bensley separated the paradisiacal site into different zones, all of them connected via the Rue de Lamarck, the main street that extends through the whole resort. The JW Marriott Phu Quoc buildings reflect early 20th Century style and embrace the traditions of French colonial architecture. Every detail, down to the decorative elements and staff’ uniforms, have been carefully considered and crafted by Bensley to reinforce the resort’s overarching theme. The Phu Quoc Ridgeback, a native dog breed, is the mascot of the hotel and design details reflecting the mascot can be seen in various areas of the property.
Playing on the concept of academia, the 244 ocean facing guestrooms, suites and villas are spread throughout different wings each named after academic departments, giving guests the experience of being in their own dedicated section of the resort. Complementing the emerald-colored sea and the lush surrounding landscape, Bensley has picked a palate of warming reds, turquoise, blues and greens for the interiors. Custom-designed furnishings in dark timber and patterned flooring further elevate the sense of comfort and luxury in the rooms, and throughout the resort’s walkways.
Along Rue de Lamarck, traditional shophouses built to resemble the ancient streets of Hoi An highlight a unique blend of Chinese, Japanese and Western architectural influences offering visitors an authentic sense of place. Visitors can stroll the street to find the most exquisite artisanal boutiques, daily entertainment, the resort’s varied dining outlets and one of the best spas in Vietnam.
The French have long believed the therapeutic qualities of mushrooms. Playing on this idea, Bensley created an unusual guest experience in Chanterelle – Spa by JW, incorporating references from Alice in Wonderland in which mushrooms played a key role. Mushroom-shaped furnishings and hand-painted walls of flora and fauna can be spotted throughout, while framed biological illustrations of mushrooms adorn the interior ceilings, adding to the fantastical and surreal quality of the space. Bensley also took inspiration from the childhood fable for a hidden corridor, where asymmetric arches curve at mirroring angles to create a layering effect, echoing Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
Enriching culinary experiences are at the heart of all JW Marriott hotels, and it’s no exception at JW Marriott Phu Quoc where Tempus Fugit, the all-day dining restaurant, also doubles as the Department of Architecture where the study of forms, lines, structures and scale is evident. At the Department of Chemistry, the resort’s cocktail bar located by Emerald Bay, guests can relax on one of the swinging daybeds or lounge seats while sipping on signature concoctions by in-house “chemists” in lab coats. Every detail in the bar was created with a chemistry lab in mind: serving counters are decorated with beakers and scientific instruments; the ceiling is designed with a periodic table and matched with a striking atom-shaped light. French&Co., the hotel’s pâtisserie and gourmet deli, is reminiscent of a classic French café with its relaxing ambiance and interior décor, including the cast iron oven and antique scales. Red Rum, the beach grill, boasts a casual vibe in an open-air pavilion and features an intricate hanging chandelier crafted from hundreds of seashells. Finally, The Pink Pearl, housed inside a splendid 2-storey mansion, will be the resort’s beachfront fine dining Cantonese restaurant.
Bensley’s imaginative touch also extends into the meeting rooms and banqueting facilities. The grand ballroom, named the Lamarck Auditorium, showcases a series of vintage atlases, while the separate meeting spaces each tell a unique, whimsical story; The Artist, a meeting room inspired by Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, incorporates a bold lighting fixture constructed from large paint brushes. Meanwhile, The Sculptor and Carpenter boasts a uniquely-designed meeting facility with student chairs hanging on the walls. Elliott’s Backstage, another breakout area, is styled like a green room of an ancient theatre.
Photography by Krishna Adithya Prajogo / Bensley