PortfolioThe Bentley Suite at the St. Regis New York
New York, New York, USA
On the 22nd of June 2013 WATG's London office will be hosting an open studio day as part of the 2013 London Festival of Architecture. This is part of the Fitzrovia Trail event where various offices in the area will be opening their doors to the public to showcase their offices and work.
WATG's event is entitled 'On the flipside' and is designed to be a fun interactive day for visitors of all ages. The day will focus on showing visitors how easy it can be to create a simple animation. The theme will be 'A Summer’s day in London' and we will be encouraging guests to use London and its fantastic array of architecture as the backdrop for their animations.
Please come along to our offices with a healthy dose of creativity to enjoy a fun animated look at London and its architecture. You will also be able to see a range of WATG’s exciting hospitality projects from all around in the world.
We look forward to seeing you at our London office between 11h00 and 15h00 on the 22nd of June.
Early in 2013, we interviewed a selection of leading hotel brands on the state of the branded residence sector. 2009 through 2011 were challenging years, characterised by low transaction volumes and downward pressure on prices. However, 2012 has seen a resurgence in particular geographies (notably Asia), and even in North America built inventory began to sell once more. It was a strong year for new destination deals and the operators surveyed indicated a price premium over non-branded, high-end residential, of between 20 to 35 percent, with some prime urban locations significantly outperforming these ratios. One operator surveyed, observed that the branding of real estate by a premier hotel operator typically enhanced sales velocity by 20 to 30 percent, relative to unbranded residential real estate of a similar quantity. Emerging buyer markets included Russians, Brazilians, Arabs and, of course, South East Asians. Typical buyers lie between 40 to 60 years of age.
We asked the operators how the new economic environment would impact their future development plans and they were unanimous in stating that there is now a focus on exceptional sites in prime locations rather than in secondary or tertiary destinations. In some cases, greater scrutiny will be applied to the developer to ensure that they will be a suitable and financially stable partner.
There is greater emphasis, predictably on the more robust economies, notably China and South-East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand were the most mentioned) but also Turkey, Morocco and hot spots in the Middle East (UAE and Saudi Arabia). Operator appetite is greater for urban, rather than resort locations, although exceptional resort sites will still be considered.
On average, urban branded residences are achieving annual sales absorption rates of around 50 to 80 units, although there are individual case studies of more robust sales rates in ‘hot’ emerging markets. In high-end resorts, operators historically expected sales to average between 20 and 40 units a year, although there is a strong relationship with price and this range can increase a little for those resorts where apartment products dominate the unit mix. However, these rates of sales velocity have not been achieved over the last four years in the resort market, with a few exceptions, and it remains to be seen what a typical level of sales absorption will constitute in the future.
Discussions generally indicated a rationalisation of unit sizes over the last two years. Pricing pressure makes it more attractive to develop slightly smaller units and maintain the average price per square metre. However, these are luxury products and will always need to be developed to a reasonable size in order to communicate the appropriate marketing message. In a resort context, all operators experienced an increased interest in furniture packages and resort rental pools in recent years, with up to 80 percent take up in longer haul markets.
In summary, ‘operators had a greater sense of optimism and excitement about 2013, with a strong sense that the North America market had bottomed out and emerging markets held strong potential for future growth.’
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After nearly two years of waiting, the XiAn Terracotta hotel project is ready to start. The site is only a short five-minute walk from the famous Terracotta Warriors at the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The project's location will make it the closest hotel to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, creating the potential for three million visitors annually to have the opportunity to experience the hotel we are about to design.
From 11-15 November, we traveled to the site for a very intensive but fun design workshop. The charrette team members were Ardison Garcia, Carlos Meyer, Craig Takahata, and myself. Special thanks to Todd Nordstrom for providing research of the Qin dynasty and Emperor Qin Shihuang, as well as some conceptual ideas.
This is our client's first hotel development. One of our goals for our client is to differentiate the hotel from all other hotels in the region by applying a unique design approach and creating a bold statement, thus helping to set their hotel apart.
Our team's keyword for this project is "redefine." And the three keywords from our client are "culture," "history," and "modern."
If everything goes as well as our charrette, this will be an amazing project.
A few weeks ago, Tiffany Lee and I participated in the Niu Valley Intermediate School's annual career day. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students attended two sessions that introduced them to possible career choices. Tiffany and I represented architecture and interior design.
During the first part of our session we discussed the roles of architects and designers. The second half was spent with an activity. Students were asked to create bubble diagrams of their dream house and present their ideas. A few students went beyond the assignment and developed floor plans with features such as: sunken living rooms, barrier walls, water slides and hidden passages. Here are a few photos from our day.
At the airport after another invigorating day in Shanghai. Yesterday I delighted in the underground market exploration, similar to night markets but all underground. I made many friends through long negotiations. It's interesting how you slowly get moved from one room into another secret chamber as secret walls suddenly pivot and open up to slimy alleyways scattered with garbage and scurrying rats, and then into yet another layer of secret rooms; it's a bit scary being a woman who's alone, but also an adventure to remember... in retrospect, a bit too adventurous.
It was a relief going to Peninsula Hotel's luxurious shopping arcade with well-dressed security guards everywhere, and best of all, it was so wonderfully chilled! Not quite in my budget, but very elegant… nobody except security guards around; how do these luxury retail stores stay in business? The High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula is elegant and sophisticated, but has no view of the Bund. It looked somewhat similar to the High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula Hong Kong in Kowloon, but lacked the ambiance and inhabitation of guests as it was empty both times I went there.
After, I took a cab to the Xintiandi area, which is filled with charming old brick buildings, narrow side alleys, a rich variety of restaurants and small stores flanked by large shopping center with new and upcoming Chinese fashion designers on level 1. Relaxing while sweltering in the sticky heat, but fulfilled by inhaling such a wonderful quaint ambiance, I could definitely imagine opening a satellite office there...
After checking out of Les Suite Oriente Hotel, I took a cab to my next hotel: the Waterhouse Hotel. I must admit this alternative unusual boutique hotel is a rather intriguing and a very different experience. The building is a former army warehouse which has been roughly renovated--patched concrete walls and floors, narrow winding concrete stairs and remnants of old tile overlaid with quotes of famous writers. It has only 19 rooms, all with some sort of peek-a-boo or exhibitionist effects: reflecting shutters and/or large windows between public areas and guest rooms. My room was extremely small, with large windows along the 2 sides. One large window was facing the courtyard with controlled views and open mirrored shutters to some guest rooms and public areas across the narrow courtyard; the other turned out to face directly into the neighboring guest room some 4 feet across a narrow void, and the void further connected a peak into the lounge bar one floor below. Fortunately, drapery could control the limit of exposure.
Dinner was served on a long communal table at the hotel restaurant Table No.1, a small but amazing restaurant serving the most delicious taste sensations I have had for years. The restaurant consisted of 3 small 2-person tables and 4 long communal tables for 12 guests each with vintage Scandinavian furniture. This place is all about family style (sharing dishes); unfortunately, I had nobody to share with, but each dish was such an amazing tantalizing taste and ingredient combination: pate with truffles, scallops and a tiny dollop of black bean/vinegar reduction as appetizer, a main dish of sea bass dripped with a soy sprinkle, topped with smoked oysters, and dessert of mixed fresh berries (yes, raspberries...) with a raspberry reduction and green tea/lemon/tarragon sorbet sprinkled with edible flowers. The meal was a visual delight, a sensory feast, to be remembered. Very small servings make each bite extra special, and people-watching/listening is quite intriguing when dining by yourself.
Heavenly satisfied, I ventured upstairs through a series of narrow, chipped old winding concrete stairs with peeks to some guestrooms to the roof terrace, which turned out to be a very romantic rooftop lounge: an amazing location with the skyline of Shanghai and the black river dotted with brightly lit tour boats as backdrop. Soft candle lighting just barely lighting the lounge, it took a while to adjust to the dark but satiated experience. Corten steel bar and sunken maze-like small lounge pockets interlaced with herbal gardens for the restaurant enhance the views and create intriguing layered experiences. No wonder the food tasted so fresh at table #1! The sky was softly hazy and steamy hot, which added to the sensual layer of mystery and drama. It would be such a romantic place to have a cocktail with someone special! I seemed a bit out of sync being there by myself… after mentally recording the special experience, I ventured back down to the lounge to peruse Shanghai lifestyle magazines and books, lounging alone in an eclectic mix of retro Scandinavian furniture from the sixties blended with some over scale eclectic, modern accessories, while my favorite Blue Bar music was playing.
This morning I ventured into Old Shanghai Street, which is a very crowded Chinese tourist area. The smell of incense from a couple of old temples next to the entrances layered the already hazy air. I spotted narrow, colorful alleys with all kinds of Chinese artifacts--a wonderful visual feast for the eyes. Holding tight to my purse zipper, I tried to photograph them, but it was difficult as it was too crowded and hazy. A zigzag bridge leading across a koi fish garden was a popular photo point but too crowded to try and explore. Hawkers try to lead you upstairs to their pearl and jade stores, and probably to more obscure places if you are looking for purses. Different massage places offer exotic treatments such as hot wax ear massage, glass cupping and a Japanese-style massage where they lightly beat you with bundles of bamboo sticks. Not enough time to explore these offerings… it's time to head back to the hotel prior to going to the airport. Next stop: Guangzhou… the Hengqinwan Hotel.
Shanghai opened my eyes to an intriguing city so rich in history, yet booming and vibrant. What a great opportunity to explore the world while designing resorts! I just wish I had someone special with me to share the experiences. Writing them down will help me remember the special moments and maybe share them with special friends and colleagues.
Wow, it has been hectic and exhausting, but also exhilarating! Shanghai is quite fascinating--now I understand why so many artists and writers moved here in the early 1920's. The Bund, the name of the river, has a stunning wide, elevated river walk with a spectacular view similar to Hong Kong on the Kowloon side but is so much more beautiful and engaging: full of people and families with their kids, even late at night. Beautiful buildings in Neoclassical or Art Deco style with 5-star hotels/high-end retail or government agencies flank the Bund on one side, while the other side has an amazing mixture of bustling high-rise buildings with animated lighting that are constantly trying to outdo each other.
On Tuesday we researched 12 hotels which would be competitors for our new hotel and then took the bullet train to Nanjing. Nanjing is said to be a beautiful city, but all we saw was a hotel and our client's high-tech office headquarters in a business park across from the hotel. The day was filled with multiple presentations before we headed back by train to Shanghai, with client meetings till 10:00pm. Just before midnight we checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, an old grand neoclassical hotel along the Bund. Such a treat, luxury can become so addicting.....sophisticated and stylish pampering. The old building used to be a gentlemen's club--a large new addition was designed in a more contemporary Neoclassical style.
This morning consisted of more hotel research in a charming area consisting of old Shanghai-style brick houses with narrow alley ways turned into chic restaurants and retail--so relaxing and different. Lunch at Shanghai Tang cafe: soy and chili marinated jellyfish with fungus as the appetizer--about as strange and exotic to taste as it sounds--chewy and spicy... We have a design workshop this afternoon with a client and are anxiously waiting for new ideas to finalize all vertical circulation and area locations. We need to resolve all circulation within a few days as the structural engineers are to complete DD drawings within 10 days and they are to start construction in two weeks. The concept design ideas were approved and it is exciting to move forward with this fashion-inspired boutique hotel mixing contemporary hip and cool interiors with a new Art Deco exterior along a narrower river Bund.
It's 10:30 PM, I just moved all my heavy luggage (not all clothing… mostly work samples!) to another hotel, Les Suites Oriente, along the Bund to continue the hotel research--much tighter accommodations, but the bath tub centered at the window overlooking an amazing angular view of the Bund with views to both sides of the river is a unique experience. The bath tub has a headrest but I'm not quite sure if I'm ready for the exposure. The toilet has a phenomenal view as well, yet there's no view from the bedroom; the interiors all have Scandinavian classics blended in as furniture.
Tomorrow is Saturday and I am so ready to relax, explore Xintiandi, a charming old Shanghai-style area, possibly delight in some retail therapy, sip tea at one of the cozy cafes, and explore a bustling underground market with all the designer wares imaginable while holding on tightly to my purse and negotiating with my limited Mandarin language skills. It all seems so fun, passionate and enduring. After, I'll check out of my loo with a view to explore in depth an eclectic boutique hotel named the Waterhouse that's also on the Bund, but in an area that's barely developed. The hotel is small--19 rooms only, and designed in an old warehouse setting, again, with Scandinavian furnishings..., reminds me of my Danish roots. The hotel has a fabulous cafe with the most tasteful morsels, but one night only and then off to Guangzhou for 2 days of coordination meetings and then a design workshop in Hangzhou, which should be a beautiful city built around a lake that emperors used to bring their concubines to cool off. I forgot to mention it is about 96 degrees with very high humidity; sweat is dripping from my forehead, a melting sensation satiating and layering the exotic experience.
Time to count some Z's.
The Honolulu office presents a bi-monthly lunch-and-learn program we call WATG-U. Each session builds upon previous presentations and keeps our designers, managers and technical staff engaged in lively conversations about contemporary design techniques and processes. It's a great opportunity to learn … without exams or papers! In this session, the legendary George Berean shares his experiences in working with Pete Wimberly and inspires all of us to think about how we approach design in this day and age.
We had an amazing turnout for parking day. Though the morning started out a bit chilly, the sun eventually arrived along with hundreds of Seattle pedestrians willing to give our Plinko game a try! WATG's parking-day "park" was bustling for the entire six hours of operation, reaching its peak at lunchtime when most of the WATG Seattle staff came out to lend a hand. By 2:30 pm we had given away more than 300 wildflower seed bombs and 50 tulip bulbs for residents and visitors to plant this fall.
While many people only had a minute to spare on their way to work, some passers-by stopped for longer to hang out and chat, and several people contributed to our green promise tree, committing to personal conservation efforts like walking and recycling.
The best part of parking day was watching the expressions of people who were initially skeptical about our no-strings-attached fun and free prizes. But when most people left the park they were ecstatic about having avoided signing their name to a cause while still leaving with a free seed to plant. The idea of reclaiming a parking space for public use was also entertaining and positive for people, and we definitely converted some skeptics, who may make a park themselves next September in the streets of Seattle.
Parking space before
Nearly 1000 industry leaders gathered in Las Vegas this week to discuss, debate and define some of the key issues facing the Travel & Tourism industry at this year's WTTC Global Travel & Tourism Summit.
The mood among delegates could be described as "tempered optimism." Conference speakers generally reported that travel and tourism in both developed and developing countries is significantly improved over 2009 and 2010, and will soon return to pre-recession levels. However, due to recent unrest in some countries, the "mix" of travel has changed significantly.
Travel and tourism demand drives hospitality development, requiring new and refreshed designs of places people visit, stay at, and enjoy. Ever since WATG's founder Pete Wimberly partnered with Pan Am Airlines in the 1950s to explore and develop new travel destinations around the Pacific Rim, our firm has specialized in the design of culturally-sensitive destinations around the globe. Some of the key points discussed at the 2011 WTTC Summit are particularly relevant to our business, as they underscore the importance of tourism as a driver of economic growth and acknowledge its impact on the hospitality industry:
Travel and Tourism accounts for 10% of the world's GDP, and is one of the major sources of new growth for both emerging and established destinations. A common refrain at WTTC was: "Travel and tourism equals exports." In other words, when people travel internationally, they spend money on foreign goods and services just as if they purchased foreign goods from home.
Travel and tourism is a relatively simple way to help offset the huge trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, particularly as Chinese travelers seek to travel beyond their country's borders. However, the biggest stumbling blocks to the growth of international travelers to the U.S. and to other destinations are the strict restrictions and limitations on travel visas and immigration imposed after 9/11. Even so, millions will travel outside their home countries in 2011 for the very first time. It is time for governments to create simple and straightforward travel visa processes to encourage travel and tourism.
The global hospitality industry is extremely fragmented and interdependent. Hotels cannot expand unless airlines and other forms of transportation continue to increase capacity and routes. Airlines cannot increase capacity and routes unless people can freely travel to destinations of their choice. People will not travel to a destination unless they have comfortable, safe, and welcoming lodging facilities.
There is more capital available for hospitality projects today than at any time in the past three years, and capital continues to flow into the hospitality sector. However, the expectations of investors remains high and only projects with the right mix will be funded.
Investors are looking for established brands and knowledgeable teams who know how to make hospitality developments successful.
Over the next 20 years, industry analysts expect business travel to continue to drive global economic growth.
Technology, it is widely agreed, will never replace the need of people to meet face-to-face in order to do business. A key to success in hospitality is a focus on the guest experience. Give visitors what they want; make them feel welcome; and offer an authentic experience that caters to their particular needs.
Next year's World Travel and Tourism Council Summit will be held in Tokyo in April. Hopefully, by that time the U.S. and other governments of the world will have solved the travel visa bottleneck problem, allowing travel and tourism to continue to drive economic growth and prosperity.
I'm at the Global Spa Summit in Bali supporting our two Cornell Hotel Management students Sarah Widjaja and Saurabh Sud in the 'Profitable Spa Student Challenge' Four teams of students from Asian hotel schools are paired with design firms to submit entries. This year the theme was centred on profitability after previous years of 'fantasy' designs. Sarah and Suarab made a great presentation of their 'Theaven' spa concept, aimed at a younger market in the shopping malls of China's emerging cities. They created quite a buzz amongst the Spa professionals attending the summit.