Dutch designer Marcel Wanders was recently in Australia to talk about hotels, a favourite topic for the product designer who, after launching Moooi, launched into interiors on the back of the success of the Andaz Hotel in Amsterdam. Designed and opened with a friend, its narrative-rich interior tells stories of Amsterdam and has become a favourite for tourists. According to Marcel, it's now so popular that some guests travel all the way to Amsterdam just to stay at the Andaz.
Speaking at the Mint in Sydney, Marcel Wanders was joined by interior designers Tracey Wiles, Make Architects, and Jonathan Richards, SJB, along with Architecture Media's Cameron Bruhn, to debate the future of hotel design – a topic that requires something of a crystal ball to predict the nuances, both social and economic, that will shape the hotels of tomorrow.
more space took a look at the key themes and ideas informing some of the world's most exciting hotels today and what might be next.... and also uncovered the story behind Marcel's first hotel project, the Andaz that he and a friend opened themselves in 2011...
Understanding a city, the people and their culture are key to designing a hotel that resonates with guests...
Marcel Wanders: As interior designers why would we be interested in doing a product that is the same around the world? It’s not in the interest of humanity, it’s not in the interest of quality or of us making a difference in the world. It’s super interesting to make things that have local meaning. We study the surroundings, the people and the culture, and create a design that is truly authentic and feels of the place. Of course, that comes with a problem because the client wants an 'international' quality for 'international' people, whatever that means. That is our biggest challenge. To be local as well as international, which are opposites, as well authentic and innovative, which are also opposites. We combine polarities in a way. Stupid little things, like making a mini bar look like a safe because I am in Switzerland, or a wall that looks like chocolate. There are very few people who are crazy enough to do that. I like to dive deeper and find more territory.
Tracey Wiles: I think it has never been more important that we contextualise hotel design and make it localised. A lot of people are travelling all the time, whether it is business pr pleasure, We want to go somewhere whee we have an authentic experience. That term is bandied around everywhere so I apologise for using it, but to go somewhere and feel like you are actually engaging with a space is magic. There are a couple of places for me, like the Delano in Miami where the curtains move in the sea breeze, it’s amazing. To give people an emotive reaction and feel something about a place, that is our responsibility as interior designers.
Jonathan Richards: I think there is no other way to design hotels other than to put a local perspective on it. I have seen various ways that the interpretation of location is portrayed. A graphic response is quite literal. What I like most is when the materials of an area are used, and when you see hotels that are constructed without being blatantly obvious about the context of the hotel, more about the craftsmanship and the workmanship of the materials. It’s a subtle and genuine way of distilling that sense of locality. Through materials and colours it is less a graphic response and more an intrinsic material response.
Opening your own hotel is one way of winning clients, Marcel tell us about how the Andaz came about and how it has impacted your design practice?
MW: Of course you don’t just suddenly get a hotel if you are a product designer. So with a friend I decided to do a hotel. We had seven little rooms, seven 'houses', a restaurant, reception and two meeting rooms. Nobody asked me, nobody was waiting for it. There was no client. Everything that we did was designed, everything. So from seven rooms we had 300 photographs that were amazing and all very different. It looked like we did the most incredible hotel ever. Soon after the Andaz was published we were invited to do a Mondrian Hotel in Miami. I don't suggest everyone does that, but...
And the hotel of the future... where is design heading?
JR: The level of service and personal interaction I think is what hotels will really need to focus on in the future. Beyond the design, how do people feel really special in an environment. I find that even a favourite hotel if you start to get back service everything about it becomes irritating, even the design you thought you liked. Again it is that one type of project that relies on a number of factors and the environment that we create must be really unique and special. It can be another world but it can be let down by other factors. Ultimately for me that’s about the future success of a hotel.
MW: We live in a very interesting time. If you had asked me 20 years ago what the house of the future looks like, I would have said it is probably more individual, personal, specific, expressive of that person, and I think most of us probably would have said that. That was what design was pushing for. If you look at that today, the world is so different. Nothing of that projection is real. In fact I think that at this moment that the public domain have almost swapped places. If you go to a public place like a hotel, you want it to be moody and comfortable with photos of grandma. With houses, people want it to be ready to sell, or they want it to be Airbnb-able, so basically they want less and less of themselves. The house gets more public and the public domain has to feel like someone has invited you. It is such a polarity of what desingers have been thinking for a long time and it’s going to have a big impact on whatever we do in the near future.
TW: I love what Jonathan is saying. Working for years in London with architect Norman Foster, he would stay in hotels that were not particularly well designed but had good service. Now more and more we are being asked to create the Instagram moment. I think there is something in that moment, that experience. With Instagram I think we are going to see more people going to destinations because they want to achieve that quick fix of something fabulous. But ultimately as Jonathan says, I do think that service will always win out.
MW: I think as designers we are able to create the capacity for that service to be great. They can shine if we give them a podium.