The new Bulgari Hotels & Resorts in Rome and Tokyo: two projects by ACPV Architects Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel born out of respect and the desire to enhance the host locations

Although signature and star-studded hotels for leisure and business travel are popping up like mushrooms in 2023, when it comes to the Bulgari Hotels & Resorts collection – especially its latest openings, in Tokyo and Rome, respectively in April and at the start of June this year – one enters a completely different world: that of the inimitable uniqueness of a jewel, based on design, detailed craftsmanship and service.

“We have made just nine hospitality structures around the world, across the span of two decades,” says Silvio Ursini, vice-president of Gruppo Bulgari, in charge of the strategy and design direction of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. The first was the Bulgari Hotel in Milan in 2004, followed by Bali (2006), London (2012), Beijing and Dubai (2017), Shanghai (2018), Paris (2021). So what is the secret behind this visionary project of excellence in a market that has evolved, where Bulgari is now a global brand, part of the luxury giant LVMH?

Bulgari Hotels: the beauty of a history

“The secret involves consistency and truth, from which we gain great force,” Ursini explains. “This involves patience and discipline, to choose only the right places in terms of position and characteristics. Fortunately, our motto has always been to open units only when we find extraordinary locations. Including Rome, the source of Bulgari’s wealth – the beauty of our history – which already, twenty years ago, was at the top of our list of priorities. Another factor is the terse, timeless expression of style. Just consider the fact that the pilot hotel in Milan has not changed at all since 2004. Clients can recognize the spirit and identity of our facilities: the energy that is transmitted through the experience. As ‘jewelers of hospitality,’ we keep faith with our guiding principles. Thus the hotels themselves have become in-house training schools, and the guests can perceive the impeccable quality of our service.”

A life philosophy

Bulgari is a philosophy of life, and its interpretation is the result of intense collaboration, interaction and discussion between Silvio Ursini and the studio ACPV Architects - Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel, creators of the entire hotel collection of the group. “Over the years we have gained expertise in the design of Bulgari hotels, gradually taking the form of certain precise characteristics: the recognizability of the destinations and the DNA of the brand,” says Patricia Viel. “In practice, Bulgari has created a form of hospitality of very high quality, cultured but informal, refined and cosmopolitan, comfortable and intimate, devoted to the visual and sensorial perception of deeper wellbeing for guests.”

Brand personality

“Materials and finishes that age well, together with contemporary Italian design – the products of Antonio Citterio – define an aesthetic world that is truly special. What remains inside these projects and those to come is an idea of beauty that reflects the personality of the brand. Interpreting its evolution and conserving certain clear codes of visual recognition, in the recent projects for Tokyo and Rome the design has reached a certain conceptual maturity,” she continues. “We have conducted research on the fundamentals of the décor and the use of color as characteristic and exclusive values.

Design as anthropological culture

When we began the Tokyo project, in 2015, we noticed that there are elements driving the desire for embellishment that are identical across all cultures, because they are part of the anthropological context of human beings. For example, the peacock tail motif utilized to decorate the long mosaic wall at the entrance reflects the fan-shaped arrangement of Roman cobblestones on the ground, the repertory of the Baths of Caracalla but also typical figures of traditional Japanese fabrics.”

Custom-designed fabrics

What makes the difference here are precisely the fabrics based on the work of the designers, in the public and private spaces, produced by Hosoo, a very old manufacturer of kimonos in Kyoto. Together with a range of materials and colors featuring warm tones of orange, gold and the cognac shading of elm (there is no oak, just as there is none in Milan) for the paneling and furnishings in solid wood, carefully crafted by hand. This arrangement forms an ideal contrast for the hotel, located inside a skyscraper in the chilly and almost monochromatic central context of Ginza. The lobby and the elevators are enclosed in a glass box on the ground floor, a space of transition, while the reception, the public and private spaces, are placed from the 40th to the 45th floor.

In Tokyo in the clouds

“Obviously the location has been chosen for its position and its exceptional views: you are in the clouds, faced by the spectacle of Mt. Fuji, with the bay on one side and the iconic locations of the city on the other,” says Silvio Ursini. “But when you descend, all of Tokyo is at your feet: you are a few steps away from the exclusive boutiques of Ginza, the Imperial Palace with its gardens, and the old railroad station.” Separated from the dense context of the city, the high points of the hotel are the two roof terraces, at the 40th and 45th levels, create by the designers to expand the shared spaces into the outdoors, in a true Bulgari experience of the Italian way of living, with the surprise and sensorial pleasures of a Mediterranean garden.

The quintessence of Italian character in Rome

In its evolution, the site-specific concept of the Bulgari hotel finds its apotheosis in Rome, born ‘under the sign’ of Piazza Augusto Imperatore, to celebrate the quintessence of Italian character and Roman identity: classicism and Mediterranean spirit. “In metaphorical terms, we began precisely here,” Silvio Ursini explains. “Sotirio Bulgari, the Greek founder of the company in 1884, had made a long journey from Corfù to Naples, reaching Rome on Via Sistina in 1884 and then opening his large store at Via dei Condotti in 1933. We like to imagine the sons of Sotirio, Giorgio and Costantino, in the 1930s, as they design the store, while the architect Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo began to think about the building where they would make their home, designing the piazza that pays tribute to the ancient mausoleum of the Emperor Augustus. A perfect composition: a square formed by three monumental but genteel blocks of ochre travertine and red brick, and a fourth side defined by the Ara Pacis Museum, with the circular volume of the Mausoleum at the center.”

Energy of place

Patricia Viel agrees: “We should not forget that when our project began in 2017, for one of the three buildings originally envisioned by Morpurgo as the headquarters of INPS, which then passed into private ownership, bidding was also under way for the refurbishing of Piazza Augusto Imperatore, which was carried out by Francesco Cellini, and the restoration of the Mausoleum, is if suspended in the metaphysical void of a large theatrical wing.” Certain small signs of destiny, which take us back into an oasis of peace, where the energy of the site is combined with the feeling of protection from the hubbub of the city. Almost like a resort. “The reconfiguration of the plan was far from easy, though we did fine a letter written by Morpurgo stating that he had envisioned this building precisely as a hotel. The key to the project was to put together the rigor of the 1930s and the Roman grandeur of the early empire, that of the city of stone, of opus sectile and multicolored marble,” the architect points out.

Tribute to the Eternal City

“The rationalist building, furthermore, revealed some unexpected details: portals bordered with gray Fior di Pesco marble, theatrical helical staircases, large mosaics in colored marble, cut with pincers. We have salvaged everything, while concealing the technological equipment necessary for the life of a contemporary hotel inside a large portion of the sixth and last floor, without entering the terrace.” The project thus pays ulterior homage to Rome, in a triumph of marble varieties worked in different ways, decorative features with erudite references, mosaics inspired by the Baths of Caracalla and Villa Livia, the home of the wife of Augustus. The marbles are in tune with the furnishings and complements, as a pervasive chromatic theme, especially in the private spaces based on a palette of greens, reds, yellows and shades of ivory. The public spaces and traditional Roman terraces, with their usual codes of recognition, are instead enhanced for the first time by a café open to the community, located below the portico with columns facing towards the piazza. The rooftop terrace, conceived as a lush Mediterranean garden, offers breathtaking views of the surroundings.

Per aspera ad astra

The spa is a truly unique feature, organized on three levels, where 8 haughty columns clad in grooved Arabescato Corchia marble rise from a grand swimming pool, clad with Striato Olimpico marble. Noblesse oblige for the flagship of the Bulgari fleet, moored precisely in front of the Mausoleum, establishing dialogue from different perspectives. From the piazza, entering the vestibule, stands a marble statue of the young Augustus. On a bas relief of the southern façade, the Latin inscription reads: “this is the place where the soul of Augustus takes flight.” “The emperor is our tutelary deity,” Ursini concludes. Therefore: “per aspera ad astra.” The project doesn’t stop in Rome. The next openings have been announced, in the Maldives, Miami and Los Angeles, in 2025 and 2026.

Project director Roberto Mariani Architect - Photo courtesy Bulgari