08-12-21 | Feature

Abandoned Hotel Revitalized

The island of Saipan

At the Kensington Hotel in Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the Western Pacific Ocean, Landscape Architect Walter Ryu developed a vision to revive the resort landscape. The 30-acre site was designed with numerous garden sections and water features to bring life back into the hotel.
The rooftop pool features arching water jets designed to provide a continuing sound of water from the lobby while maintaining a low-enough arch to keep the spectacular view unabated.
Zone one of the project was outside of the main entrance to the hotel. The Landscape Architect's goal was to maximize the aesthetics of the location by creating a cool and refreshing visual effect to act as the first impression for guests as they arrive at the resort.
Outside the lobby, this circular, two-tiered cone-shaped water fountain was added to create a soothing environment and provide additional seating.
One of the main tasks for the design team was to plan the landscape lighting around the pool and at various locations throughout the site.
A previously existing island in the center of the pool was scheduled to be covered in pool tiles to match the surrounding surface. However, Walter Ryu had a different idea for this space and turned it into a condensed, luxurious tropical oasis.
This path, leading to the resort amphitheater, features Canna lily, bird nest tree, Philippine Sampaguita flowers, banana plants, ginger and bougainvillea, hibiscus, santana flowers, and duranta to border the walkway and create a lush feeling for guests.

The Project

The island of Saipan has a meaningful history and culture as a commonwealth of the United States and as the location of the Battle of Saipan in World War II. At Saipan's Kensington Hotel, Landscape Architect Walter Ryu was tasked with the landscape architecture services in the renewal of this old, non-operatable, and abandoned hotel originally built in the 1970s by a developer from Asia. It had been left unattended on the northern coast of the island.

Instead of rebuilding the hotel, the client kept the architectural structure and revitalized the property landscape with an emphasis on the addition of plantings, water features, and landscape lighting. The success of the development came from hands-on-design, well executed construction, and the combined effort of volunteers from the hotel, dedicated work from local laborers, and solid support from the client.

Hotel Location

A great deal of the island's tourism is centered around the 2nd World War battle of Saipan. War artifacts, such as tanks and canons, can be found throughout the island and visitors often fall into a silence at the World War II Saipan American Memorial. However, that is not all the island has to offer. Visitors are also able to experience beautiful natural elements such as mesmerizing sunsets and shallow beaches, with untouched tropical forests and serene caves found further inland.

Looking past the built environment, visitors can experience the island's rocky inland mountains, emerald waves, and a full array of tropical plants and native vegetation. Saipan is one of the most famous diver destinations and is a great tropical resort area boasting a short travel distance from Northeast Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and China.

The resort site is located on the northern edge of the 45 square mile island of Saipan. It is a somewhat quiet and remote area, away from the established downtown shopping districts, hotels, and restaurants. Being in a more setback location, the Kensington Hotel targets itself as a setting for families and business travelers. The client, E Land Group of Korea, has been a long-time partner with the communities of the island. Before and during construction, the hotel staff had voluntarily started cleaning trash and debris from the beaches and participated in multiple fundraising activities. The island was mostly happy to respond as projects like this are not only good for the spirit but also benefit employment and economic components for the residents.

Scope of Work


The scope of work involved landscape design, planning, construction observation services, providing a planting schedule at the existing pool deck, implementing water features, and overseeing comprehensive plantings along the hotel building complex. The remnant building structure was strong enough to be reused but the facilities, such as restaurants and all the amenities, required remodeling of the interior and pathways. Most of the open space had gone a long time without maintenance and was strewn with debris. Working and planning with the architecture team, the key element for the landscape became focused on reviving the resort feeling.
In response to the hotel opening schedule, the design team identified landscape lighting and other key elements needed to carry into four zones of the project to meet their deadline. The entrance was the first zone, calling for a new design in the arrival area, from the street to the main hotel lobby.
The second zone involved a rooftop display pool connected by sound to a classic water feature in the lobby. Third was the installation of plants around the pool deck, including the pathway,
and fourth, the plantings in every guest room's balcony.
In addition to the four zones, installation of a ground floor pool and the terrace was carried out by the construction team. The site included play equipment, two major slides, and a children's pool. The central pool pavilion, bar, and jacuzzi were pre-existing and the construction team delicately upgraded them. The other restaurants and the playroom in the basement were also redesigned and constructed with interior designers.

Design Practices

When designing the first of the four zones, Ryu felt that the entry arrival court did not have any cohesive theme. There were two entry points from the access road but not enough entry appeal. To enhance the arrival experience, the team decided to add a large 100' long water fountain which made the existing plumeria trees appear to have a floating effect and provide a sense of cooling for the visitors arriving at the hot tropical resort. In addition, bougainvillea was planted over the repainted entrance structures to create a living attraction. According to Ryu, it was the first ever designed-at-arrival courtyard water feature among the Saipan hotels.

In the second zone are yellow water fountains located next to the ocean facing lobby bar, Lohas. Ryu provided the sight and sound of water echoing into the lobby, drawing a connection to the next water sound effect, the rooftop pool and fountains. The pool offers a wide angled panoramic view of the ocean with dramatic sunsets. Arching water jets splash into the pool and are angled low enough to stay below the line of sight, allowing guests to take in the abundant scenery.

Flanked by the arrival-court water features and the rooftop waterjets, Ryu added a circular, two-tiered cone-shaped water feature that reflected the open sky above and doubled as a seating arrangement in the lobby.

The team looked at the pool deck in the third zone and found there was not a clear circulation experience and, in particular, there was no canopy to offer shade
during the daytime. The team found that it was essential to connect everything by pathways with a pleasant walking experience. So, the existing concrete slabs were broken, and a provision of large palm trees were added.
In the fourth zone, there were many balcony planters, and it took some time to survey the actual number and develop a plan. The soil mix and irrigation were carefully designed encouraging growth and permitting guests to enjoy the beautifully planted bougainvillea flowers on each balcony.

Strategy and Challenges

One of the challenges that presented itself during the project was there were few local contractors, and they often had limited schedules. The team recognized that it is not rare to run into labor shortages. The economy of local communities is always affected with contracts of new development or remodeling projects. It was vital to hire the right local contractors and establish trust between the Landscape Architect and the project teams.

In addition, it was difficult to find local nurseries with available plant materials, and many of the nurseries were actually against the project as well. So, Ryu had to source materials from abroad and deal with the delays caused by the situation.

The team needed to cultivate seedlings on site for at least six months before they could plant the balconies. They also preordered many of their shrubs six months in advance and, fortunately, one garden owner kept their promise and delivered. Additional plant material was sourced from across the island, wherever they could find availability.

The strategy of working and resolving at the site worked well. As Ryu stated, "Perhaps it's a rare tactic these days, but maybe it is a truly great opportunity to maximize with limited time and materials by searching for the solution for each landscape task individually." Thus, the Landscape Architect's direct participation from the design to construction stage saved time and resources by making critical decisions collaboratively on site.


The Kensington Hotel project was a milestone hotel and resort project in Saipan due to its scale, amenities, and landscape. As a Landscape Architect working with the developers and other consultants, Ryu believed they had the leadership and power to revive the spirit of the place, heal the community and attract travelers through the visual effects of the plants and landscape. The successful project became the energetic catalyst for a regional renaissance. Ryu understood that working and dealing with an existing manmade un-successful, abandoned lot required a tough spirit and dedicated collaboration from the owners, communities, and construction team.


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