PortfolioThe Bentley Suite at the St. Regis New York
New York, New York, USA
Esri is the biggest GIS solutions company in the world and its products cover all areas from planning, government, environment, military, remote sensing and many others. Over 12,000 people attend this annual conference but only a handful are privileged enough to present there. We were fortunate enough to have ESRI show personal interest in our work with CityEngine.
I gave the presentation which was well received and the many comments which followed acknowledged that WATG is at the forefront of this design technology.
We have also made some interesting contacts within Esri and are planning to keep in close contact with their development team and see how we can help push the next releases towards the smart urban design tool that it is. We also made some contacts with other professionals working with CityEngine and hope to be able to share ideas in the future.
Another tool that was presented in the conference was a 3D plug-in for CityEngine, produced by the same company who modeled all the 3D trees in the movie "Avatar." We teamed up with them and developed a beta version to test on our next City Engine project. Naturally our expectations are very high and we are very excited to be part of this developing community.
Many speakers in the Smart Cities session called CityEngine a game changer for urban design, which we strongly believe it is and are looking forward to being part of this promising and evolving technology.
Here is my presentation:
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
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.’
To obtain a free copy of the report, please fill in your name and email address in the comment section below (your information will not be posted).
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
The TED video below shows Blaise Aguera y Arcas of Microsoft demonstrating the new Bing Maps capabilities. The three technologies he demonstrates are SeaDragon (Deep Zoom), Photosynth and augmented reality. All three are technologies that WATG has been researching or is currently using. Beyond that he mentions "Live Dynamic Mapping" that uses live video feeds in the geo-spacial space.
Luxury hospitality has been hit harder by the worldwide financial disruption than any other segments of the hotel business. According to Mark Lomanno of STR, it may rebound the quickest, but it has the farthest to go.
While all indications are that affluent travelers will indeed return, what they will be hoping to find in the hotels and resorts they visit will have morphed in a number of subtle ways. Shifting perceptions about luxury will account for changes that we are already seeing in high-end hospitality design.
The changing nature of luxury
To the extent that conspicuous consumption and ostentatious décor might be considered bad form in a global recession -- where so many people and businesses have been hard hit -- design aesthetics will be tamped down in new and renovated properties, thereby changing the look and reconsidering the definition of luxury.
While luxury conjures images of excess and indulgence, Isadore Sharp, founder, chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, views it as something that goes deeper than aesthetics: "For our guests and clients, luxury is about making the most of their precious time. It's about feeling welcomed and recognized. It's about not having to worry about a thing."
Among affluent travelers, there seems to be a general self consciousness about the appearance of over-indulgence and a desire to feel vindicated in some way. Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Six Senses, identifies the shift as "a move away from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption."
In other words, bling has blung. When it comes to luxury hotel design in 2010 and beyond, expect to see less flash and more substance; comfort over coolness; friendliness over pretentiousness.
Back to basics
Though clearly a five-star brand, St. Regis recently went through the conversion of a property in Princeville, on the island of Kauai, that involved removing tons of polished marble, ornate railings and chandeliers, European themed furniture and artwork, and gilded Corinthian columns. Designers repositioned the Hawaii property to reflect its locale through the use of indigenous materials, paintings and sculpture by local artists, and custom-designed carpets and furnishings with a residential feel that exude warmth and hospitality.
In 2010 and beyond, polished brass and shiny chrome will be out. Natural stone and salvaged wood will be in. Recycled materials and accessories will enhance the guest experience and give a property a unique story to tell.
Simplicity and sustainability will be the key drivers for success.
It took just under a year after the property opened but at the end of January, we received word posted on our USGBC project site that Bardessono had completed the final certification review and was being awarded Platinum certification. Talk about wanting to turn cartwheels in the office and scream FINALLY! What a relief. I have to say, the review process was challenging, interesting and stressful towards the end. We ran into a few hiccups – having to issue clarifications, reissuing information that the review team had received yet we believe was lost at some point. Checking and rechecking – dotting I’s and crossing T’s. During that time in the back of my mind I thought – what if we miss this and receive LEED Gold – do we write Highest Amount Gold Points Achieved below the plaque? Missed it by ONE point? No – that wouldn’t do. In the end, the perseverance of a dedicated design team along with a determined owner/client paid off. Bardessono is an excellent product and I understand it’s faring well despite the economy. Guests are impressed and have returned. I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat.
Conde Nast Traveler magazine recently had a big feature on Russia today, and in a sidebar discusses the country’s stereotypical penchant for over-the-top style. This is my take on the notion that Russia is all about bling:
New money is new money, anywhere in the world. Russians certainly have their own style but it is indeed very arrogant and foolish to write them all off as being tacky. I think an anecdote with a client best illustrates this. We were recently asked to look at a very upscale community on a beautiful lake north of Moscow. When we started to talk about architectural styling, we asked the client if she had any ideas. "Yes," she said. "I would like to build residences that look like MY house." She showed us photos. It was a timber, minimal cube. Beautiful, sophisticated and simple…
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.
A compelling reason to renovate now is that construction prices have declined significantly following a 30-year rise. Saving money in labor and materials can increase the internal rate of return for any hotel renovation projects that are being contemplated … and have bottom-line benefits. But, as they say on TV, "Hurry, this offer won't last."
As reported in Rider Levett Bucknall's quarterly cost report, construction costs in the US declined for the fourth consecutive quarter, but the rate of decline has diminished considerably. Whereas in the first quarter of 2009, prices dropped in many cities by an average of seven percent, recent reductions in labor and materials (as well as overhead and profit) have leveled off to a single percentage point.
The data suggest that builders are unlikely to make additional deep cuts to their already tightened margins, even as workload projections remain pessimistic. In other words, if you're a hotel owner, operator or asset manager who has been deferring maintenance or waiting to renovate until prices go down even further, this is as good as it's going to get.
Howard J. Wolff Hotel News Now Interview "Should hoteliers renovate"
Our People: Hospitality Magazine Audio