PortfolioThe Bentley Suite at the St. Regis New York
New York, New York, USA
I was recently honored to be asked by my alma mater, Ball State University, to attend part of the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) conference 2013 in Singapore, held on the campus of the National University of Singapore. The conference hosted 100 participants representing 28 universities from 18 countries.
Professor Tommy Koh gave the keynote address during which he issued a challenge to the attendees to embrace a vision of campuses as eco-cities that set the standard that the world’s metropolitan areas emulate.
In my brief time at the conference I was struck by the passion and dedication the participants bring to their efforts to create sustainable, healthy campus communities. As to be expected from a gathering of people from around the world their starting points and progress vary widely. For some the challenge is staggering, for others merely challenging.
We heard first hand accounts of small victories such as instituting water conservation techniques to success stories about newly built, net-zero energy buildings.
I took away two key points of discussion which are applicable in many of the contexts in which we at WATG find ourselves each day:
1. Values vs. value.
Reaching people by appealing to the value an idea brings to the table isn't always successful if it isn't relatable or quantifiable. Sometimes a more successful approach is to show how an idea has a direct relationship to a person’s values.
2. The analogy of a barn raising vs prefab barn in approaching a project.
The term 'barn raising,' which is a communal effort at constructing a barn, was used as an example of a way to involve as many parties as possible so that they become personally invested in a project. In contrast, a 'prefab' approach where construction of a building is done largely off site and 'appears' in place excludes many potential partners and doesn’t create a lasting, meaningful relationship to a given project.
This past weekend, Jon Lee and I volunteered for the 2013 AIA Waikiki Walking Tour. We served as docents for the Bank of Hawaii Building and the Waikiki Business Plaza. We stood on Kalakaua Avenue on Saturday morning, shouted over traffic noise, and offered information about the two Waikiki landmarks. Nearly 300 people took part in the tour in 18 separate groups.
The Bank of Hawaii Building was designed by our founder George "Pete" Wimberly, and built in 1967. One of the design challenges was to integrate sustainable features with tropical and cultural elements. His solution was multipurpose interlacing arches. The arches were designed to evoke the ancient Hawaiian art and mimic the form of pineapples, which are also interpreted as rainbow and palm trees. The arch features also provide lateral bracing to the building facade and provide sunshade to the interior, reducing energy consumption for air conditioning. The Bank of Hawaii Building was also the location of the WATG office until 1997.
The Waikiki Business Plaza was designed by Edwin Bauer, and built in 1965. The most notable design feature is the revolving restaurant at the top of the building, revolving once-an-hour and providing panoramic views of the ocean, Diamond Head, and the Koolau mountain range.
It's Earth Day and I'm excited because WATG's Honolulu office was just recognized by the Hawaii State Senate and the Governor at the Green Business Recognition Ceremony. WATG was one of only eight firms recognized for its green business initiatives. We received a commendation from the Governor, one from the Senate, a Green Award Certificate from the Department of Business and Economic Development & Tourism, and a recycled glass poi pounder (see below).
Some of the green initiatives at WATG include reducing paper use by a third, an 80% reduction on paper and plastic products, and using natural or low VOC building materials. Our complete list can be found in our Honolulu Green Business Manual.
Mahalo to Kelley Tanaka-Kalani, Dean Kawamura, and Craig Takahata for making this possible. Here are a few photos from the ceremony. The Senate Gallery was impressive; so was the Governor's ceremony. Governor Abercrombie was very friendly and chatty and made the event fun. It was reassuring to hear that he and his staff are passionate about sustainability and pledged to keep our islands green. When they called on WATG to present us with our certificates, we were all able to shake hands with the Governor and take a photo with him.
What a great way to celebrate the Earth Day! Appreciate all the help and support from our entire staff.
Ruoyun Sun acknowledged in The Hawaii State Senate Chambers.
WATG with Governor Neil Abercrombie
(L-R: Gov. Abercrombie, Ruoyun Sun, Dean Kawamura, Kelley Tanaka-Kalani and Craig Takahata)
WATG's Honolulu office is in the midst of a very special partnership with a non-profit community organization, Te Taki Tokelau, Inc. Our role has been to take the first steps toward helping the group build or acquire a permanent community center and language school.
Tokelau is comprised of four coral atolls north of Samoa with a total land area of 3.9 square miles. While there are only about 10,000 Tokelauans in the world, about 1,000 live in Hawai'i. The majority of them are here because of their forcible removal in 1953. With no right of return to their homeland, the Tokelauan community in Hawai'i is committed to preserving its culture and language and needs a dedicated space for their operations.
Members of WATG's Honolulu office began by helping the community start to imagine exactly what was needed. Since most funders want to see what will be built before they award money, WATG was asked to produce initial concepts, rough building plans, and a sense of the architectural character.
While the designers at WATG are masters of creating projects that heighten the experience of a unique location, this process was different. Our challenge was to imagine a building that could transport people from an environment in Hawaii to a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific where life is wholly dependent on the ocean and reef networks and whose highest point is a mere 2 meters above sea level. In the islands of Tokelau the concepts of sustainability and community are not buzzwords; they are about survival.
We had 23 people donate their lunch hour for an in-house charrette. The schemes ranged from large-scale complexes to small, movable buildings (one even included a volcano).
Ten days after this first charrette, six WATG designers and their families spent a Saturday afternoon with the students, teachers, and elders of the Te Taki community. We were greeted with traditional song and dance and deep appreciation from the Tokelauan families. We ultimately ended up with three different schemes that used pieces from many of the initial charrette ideas: a smaller, easily-phased building; a bigger, more iconic building; and a more expansive and ambitious master plan should Te Taki encounter a larger piece of land available for community groups.
Over the next few weeks we will provide Te Taki with more refined options as well as some rough cost estimates provided by a local cost estimating firm that has donated its services. This will allow them to have an accurate starting point to begin looking at potential sites and funding. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a longer relationship and a way for us to give back to the broader Polynesian community whose home we share here in the middle of the Pacific. For those of us involved, the experience deepened our understanding of what Aloha truly is. Stay tuned for more updates as this process moves forward.
Group photo of Te Taki Tokelau and WATG after the second charrette.
This recently announced move changes the practice that has been in place since early 2009, following inconsistencies and poor service that have been frustrating to LEED project teams.
All I can say to this is, "It's about time!"
GBCI was spun off from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2008 to run the LEED certification process, as well as the accreditation of LEED professionals. In turn, GBCI hired outside "Certification Bodies," or CBs, to perform the LEED reviews, while it managed the overall process. Now, GBCI is taking over those reviews directly.
Certification for our Bardessono project stretched out over a year, and we hit a few snags with the review team. We now know that our review team was a CB, or Certification Body, which may explain some of the issues we ran into. Clarifications, email arguments, reissuing documents that were apparently misplaced by the review team … all these led to a lot of frustration and delays. Our LEED consultant/administrator had to write and call several times to find out exactly where we were in the process. In the end, we earned Platinum certification for our project and for our client; but, hopefully, the process will be less arduous in the future.
12:29 PM - That's what time we finished the presentation for the Radical Innovation Competition due to some technical errors.
12:30 PM - When we walked on stage to give the presentation!
It's amazing what you can do when you are under pressure. Our team had little time to rehearse together, but we knew the project. After a little coaching, we knew we just had to get up there and show the audience how passionate we were about this concept and how it could impact the hospitality industry.
Our 10 minutes flew by, and I was back in my seat watching the other two finalists present their ideas. Both presentations were really great and the speakers were quite charismatic. When it came time for the final vote, I don't think anyone knew how it would turn out.
"This year's runner-up...Aircruise" (clapping, clapping)
"And this year's winner of the Radical Innovation in Hospitality Award...Mosaic by WATG" (loud girlish screams from the back and lots of clapping)
It took a minute for it to set in, and when it finally did they were placing a very large $10,000 check in our hands (no complaints there). All of our colleagues who were there were just as proud as we were to finally be bringing home the win after four years of being a finalist. The judges told us later that every year WATG has had amazing submissions and this year we finally hit it out of the park.
The team was Jerod Costner, Karen Mitri and me. Larry Rocha, Raj Chandnani, Robert Payan, and Mike Seyle (who built a model out of straws) acted as our advisors through the process. We also have to thank the WATG Irvine team for sharing their creative minds with us in our brainstorming sessions. This really was an office-wide effort and we couldn't have won it without them.
Jerod Costner, Karen Mitri and Krystal Solorzano being interviewed in WATG's Sustainable Suite after their big Radical Innovation win.
Raj Chandnani, Director of Strategy, and Rhonda Rasmussen, Vice President and Director of Interior Design, on the Green Day panel.
Photo by Robin Clewley
Six months and 23 days, that's how long it has been since we found out we had won the first USGBC Sustainable Suite Competition! Now with the Hospitality Design Expo just 3½ weeks away, we are making sure all the pieces are in place for our Haptik suite to come to life. We're putting together our final check lists and marking items off every day as the show gets closer.
Reclaimed wood headboard…check, outdoor garden balcony…check, eucalyptus sheets…check, walls…check!
We have been working closely with USGBC to make sure this is a success for everyone. On May 19th, WATG and IDEO will unveil their winning design at the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas, NV for all to see. This isn't just another model room, it's an experience. If you will be attending the HD Expo, please visit the Haptik Suite and discover all the subtle nuances of sustainability enveloped in luxury. Also be sure to check out our many gracious vendors and sponsors that helped make this a reality with their donations of sustainable products.
After the HD Expo, the Haptik Suite will be moved to a more permanent location at the College of Southern Nevada.
Guestroom Axon View
Despite the lodging industry's well-meaning efforts to go green - and to tell the world about it - we've barely made a dent to date.
Check out the recently released 147-page CMI Green Traveler Survey Report. Based on a survey of 4,109 adults throughout the United States, the study focuses exclusively on the 1,736 respondents who consider themselves to be "extremely" or "very" eco-conscious and who took at least one overnight vacation in the past year. That's a population that is likely to be educated about the concept of sustainability and open to hearing your message.
If you believe your company is doing a great job branding itself as green, you may be disappointed. When asked which hotel brand had done the best job of presenting itself as environmentally friendly, few respondents were able to name any. Respondents voted Kimpton [a study partner] as the environmentally friendliest brand, yet it was cited by only 4 percent of respondents. Hilton and Marriott received a 3 percent response.
When asked to name a green certification program, 97 percent of respondents could not name any. That does not surprise Glenn Hasek, publisher of Green Lodging News, who cites this survey in a recent issue. According to Glenn, there are more than 350 different environmental tourism certifications. Of the 1,412 respondents who answered the related question, only 32 had an awareness of LEED, 13 knew of Green Globe, and seven were aware of Green Seal.
The recommendation of the study's author: "The green travel industry, analysts and green travel advocacy groups must come together to: establish workable standards for green travel throughout the industry; award certification for meeting those standards—an industry 'seal of approval' on par with Michelin, UL or ADA; and proactively brand that certification to gain wide recognition and trust among travelers."
Consumers want to do the green thing, but there is a gap between their intentions and their actions. Perhaps one of the reasons this gap exists is the lack of a consistent set of standards and the resulting confusion caused by the clutter of competing claims.
There is an opportunity here to educate the traveling public. While savvy hoteliers know people are skeptical about advertising, there is power in positive word of mouth. Integrate social media, blogs and website reviews into your marketing mix to raise awareness of the specifics of your green initiatives. Meeting planners, especially, are hungry for this information and will reward you with their business.
Here is a behind-the-scenes glance into how we won the first-ever USGBC Sustainable Suite design competition.
17 July 2009: WATG officially kicked off its collaboration with innovation firm IDEO with a fresh look at the hotel guest experience. The team began its research by staying one night in different hotels and observing the human behavior of other guests within the public spaces as well as their own behavior as they interacted with and utilized the guestrooms. IDEO sent each team member a booklet in advance to gather and organize their findings.
Our team was challenged to switch gears; instead of looking solely at the design, for which WATG is well known, we were becoming modern-day anthropologists of the hotel experience.
We asked ourselves questions like, "How do we redefine luxury?" and "How do we create a sustainable suite without compromising the luxury experience?"
18 July 2009: The brainstorming day with the IDEO team was packed with innovative collaboration sessions that involved more Post-its (recycled of course) than you can imagine. The creativity was literally glued to the walls, and by the end of the day it was branded into our memories. Thoughts of sustainable systems, green fabrics, cradle-to-cradle (regenerative) design, water efficiency and so much more were streaming through our minds.
We set our sights on five areas of the guest experience:
• arrival, which starts from the moment the guests book a room to the minute they walk into their new home away from home;
• dining and entertainment options, which take the guest through the hotel’s dining options and in-room entertainment;
• bathing, which introduces the guest not only to the water-efficient features in the room but also touches on the wellness aspect built into the outdoor experience;
• exploration, as the guest encounters his or her new surroundings and community (as well as what takes place in the room while the guest is away, such as how the room is refreshed and what types of materials are used in the room);
• sleeping, which ushers the guest into a relaxing state with sustainable bed linens and custom pre-set lighting and temperature.
3 August 2009: With just 4 weeks to design, specify and put together a killer presentation, the team began calling vendors for the latest sustainable products, researching innovative systems for water and energy efficiency, drawing up floor plans, reading the entry rules over and over to make sure we didn’t miss a beat.
The WATG team -- Rashana Zaklit, Grace Machado, Catie Liuzzi, Shaun Hannah, Rhonda Rasmussen, Raj Chandnani, Larry Rocha and myself -- worked closely through those four weeks. In arriving at a solution for the design and sustainable specifications, we found vendors willing to donate all the materials that would be used in the room; we sought out the best systems and made sure we were gaining as many LEED points as possible; and we put together a knock-your-socks-off presentation.
31 August 2009: Based on the competition guidelines, the team assumed the deadline for submission was at 11:59PM EST, but when that time came and passed, we decided the deadline was now 11:59PM with no time zone in mind (thanks to Hawaii for the extra hours).
As our fearless leader Rhonda hobbled back and forth from her office with a broken foot (project war wound) to see how we were doing, Rashana, Grace and Catie hustled to get the specification package together after a mishap with the editing software resulted in them having to start all over. Raj reviewed and edited, reviewed and edited, reviewed and edited the project narrative while assisting me in putting the final touches on the design presentation boards. Larry became a cheerleader and overall extra set of hands in the late hours, taking on any task that we needed -- no matter how small or large -- and entertaining us with his magic tricks.
At 11:45PM we hit "send" on the last piece of material that needed to be posted. We wrote a final email to the team at IDEO with an update and the final submission. Then, like every great team, we walked out of the building as one unified front, confident that we had done the very best job we could and proud to have worked with every individual on the long journey to the end.
1 October 2009: Out of a pool of 65 entries from some of the top design firms in the world (several submitted multiple submissions), we were the winners! We were asked to keep the fantastic news a secret until the USGBC had made an official announcement to the media. But once it did, we could finally celebrate this great accomplishment that WATG can add to its legacy of innovative design.
A special thanks to all those who encouraged and helped us along the way with creative input and inspiring words.