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.
Investigating the locale for a potential project, I visited the Maruekatayawan Palace, constructed in 1923 by His Majesty King Rama VI, in Hua Hin, Thailand.
A stunning building ... more than a building … a guided perambulation through a tropical garden, a careful selection of vistas, a cool sea breeze on a heavy afternoon.
Envisaged by a King as a place to 'fully relax, in great comfort', realised by a travelling Italian architect, constructed by local craftsmen – the parallels with our current design process struck me.
Recyclable, minimal, prefabricated materials … a refined and modern response to a climate and an ideal.
There is so much to inspire our contemporary design of 'places to relax' through continuity with times passed.
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.
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
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.
On my way back from our London office recently, I stopped in Denmark for the first time to visit some friends. It was an amazing experience and another example of how much we can learn when we travel to other cultures. After a few days relaxing in the countryside, I went into Copenhagen to check out the city.
First, I was struck by how clean everything was, despite being a large metropolitan city. I saw the thousands of bicycles parked along the sidewalks and was impressed that, even with excellent public transport, people chose to get fresh air and exercise instead. Then came the surprising part…none of the bikes were locked!!! Thousands of unlocked bicycles on the streets of Copenhagen and they were not getting stolen. Amazing!!!
Walking though the city, I started noticing the stores and cafes. They are ALL designery, even the small hole in the walls. Even the most conservative of institutions such as the large banks, had Louis Poulsen artichoke pendants. Design seemed to be incorporated into everything from large buildings and products you would expect like lighting and furniture to everyday objects like nut crackers and coat hangers. I had never seen such thoughtful design everywhere I looked before. I was truly stunned.
Finally, as I was walking along the Stroget (series of pedestrianized streets) I came across the most amazing store…the Illums Bolighus (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). A sign indicated they are the Purveyor to the Royal Danish Court. This is a four story store entirely dedicated to modern design with the history and prestige of royalty attached. They had everything from lighting and furniture to utensils and wine glasses. EVERYTHING was design-focused. And almost everything was designed by a Dane or at least Scandinavian. Wow!!! Check it out here.
After talking to some people in Denmark about my observations, I learned that they consider the interior environment to be truly critical to their well-being. With the harsh weather for much of the year, they spend so much time indoors, that they put a huge amount of effort into making sure that their interior space is both pleasing and functions perfectly.
I am now thinking -- what must it be like to work as a designer in a place that appreciates design in this way? Where it is part of the overall culture and instilled in every aspect of life?
As Rhonda Rasmussen, Raj Chandnani and I prepared for the St. Regis Princeville Resort Kaua'i Grill grand opening last week, I was excited and looked forward to coordinating two separate gala events.
The first occurred on Thursday, November 19th. This was the grand opening of the Kaua'i Grill Restaurant which included media, clients, regional representatives, and of course world renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who was on Kaua'i to train his staff to present his famous cuisine. We spent several hours prior to the event making detailed lists, photographing the entire fine dining restaurant, and noting adjustments that needed to occur.
After adding a few final touches, we got ready and joined close to 100 guests for a cocktail event to introduce and showcase the restaurant. We learned first-hand the difference between Kaua'i's "resort chic" wear and our own interpretation of it. Let me tell you, our group was in the minority.
Friday began with a "meet the press" breakfast where Rhonda spoke to the history of the renovation and the local stories behind the artwork chosen and displayed throughout the space. Once again we spent time to “set the mood” for the evening’s event which would be more elaborate than the previous.
That evening, champagne was served outside while we watched a breathtaking sunset. Inside, I experienced several different perceptions of the design of the restaurant and the local community’s view of the third renovation of the Princeville property.
Media representatives from Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure, and Forbes magazines, and several local Hawaiian publications stopped by many times to give their feedback on the resort, take pictures, and interview our team on our design vision. Comments were extremely positive and reinforced how appropriate the design was to Kaua'i, its people and culture. The general consensus was that WATG's vision and execution kept the focus on the views and the island's culture.
Although this was a social event, it represented another aspect of a designer's job description: to continue to sell our product and hospitality expertise beyond the drawing table. Each of us were seated with a different group of people by the event coordinator to ensure we were mingling and getting the most out of the evening (I have a strong feeling Raj was most responsible for this mandatory interaction!). It worked. We not only met with the media but we also got to interact with the local community. I met with the local restaurant owners of Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant, who have both lived in Kaua'i since the early 80's. They both expressed that the St. Regis in its recent incarnation was the best they had ever seen the resort. The evening ended with speeches given by both the general manager and chef Jean-Georges who gave kudos to our team.
After all the interviews, tours, and reviewing the entire property we left with a great accomplishment for creating a space that paid homage to the local culture and maintained what our company stands for: creating luxurious, comfortable destinations while maintaining the thoughtfulness and genuine aesthetic that complement the local culture and environment.
Located in KPF's Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), the Park Hyatt Shanghai is the world's newest highest hotel. It is across the street from the famous Jin Mao Tower and location of the Grand Hyatt (the former world's highest hotel). It felt strange looking down onto the roof of the Jin Mao Tower where I have stayed many times over the years, but even more strange is to be eye level with the pollution line - look up for blue sky, look down at all the pollution.
The Park Hyatt, at 170 guest rooms, is very swank. I enjoyed the room as well as their lobby as a comfortable and quiet place to relax and/or work from their wireless connection. Recently opened, I was impressed with the excellent training of the staff - about the best I've experienced in China.
The Le Royal Méridien Shanghai is more moderately priced with a smaller but efficient and open floor plan. At 700 plus rooms it was very busy and appeared to be a popular business hotel. Good location and walking distance to many places of interest.
The pollution on this trip to Shanghai was as bad as I have ever seen it. Most evident in the room shots from the Le Royal Meridien overlooking Shanghai's People's Square.
Jin Mao Tower Panorama
I had been meaning to see QUA Spa at Caesars Palace since it opened this past year in Las Vegas, and found myself finally having the chance. I didn't have time to book a treatment, but wanted to see the 40,000 square-foot spa that cost $24 million to build. I had a few biased opinions after having seen a plan last year; I had originally consulted with the local firm that designed it. On plan, it appeared to be loaded with excessive circulation. While the Roman Baths layout was nice, it seemed far from the rest of the locker spaces. Would I agree after seeing the real thing?
I'm big on processions--especially for spas--and found myself heading to the spa by walking past the wedding consultation offices and then a series of chapel rooms. The rooms looked a little stage-like and I felt they could serve a funeral as well. Not the most romantic, and not the decompression walk I like to see heading to the spa. Where is the water, the dim light or natural light, the aromatherapy smells of herbs and the soothing music? Well…it was coming, but not at the entry.
The reception desk did have a token water feature, but nowhere as spiritual as the one I found at the end of the long corridor to the locker rooms. The salon was immediately to the left of the reception through frosted doors, and the retail was along the way to the locker rooms. It was the first time I had ever seen guests have no choice but to walk through the retail. It reminded me a little of the Disneyland mentality of exiting through retail after you have been on a ride. It should be interesting to see if their retail sales are higher than average because of it.
I was now off to snoop through the locker rooms. The corridor was long, but the walls were wide and clad in beautiful stone. There were water features at each turning point and the sound did bring you a tranquil feeling. I felt like I was entering a sanctuary. I didn't sense the long length of the corridor which was actually taking me around the men's locker room. The water feature before the locker rooms was of a ring of slow moving water coming from the ceiling. The water fell into a circular trough filled with long growing grass. It was very spiritual and refreshing.
I entered into the locker room to be greeted by two attendants at the attendant desk. Wow! There was so much space! How nice to see six- to seven-foot wide corridors in the locker rooms. We usually are trimming any excess fat off of the plans, and the width of the corridor is usually the first place to reduce. What's nice about the wide corridor here was that the attendant could walk beside you and not in front of you while showing you all the amenities of the locker room
What was weird about the locker room layout was the location of the large Roman Baths. This was a room with a series of whirlpools at different temperatures. It was located adjacent to the attendant desk and separate from the other thermal experiences such as the steam, sauna and arctic rooms. It was obvious it was due to available space within the tower footprint, but awkward with the flow of the locker room. The Roman Baths themselves were nice with a large whirlpool as the focal point in the room. It was elevated with guests having to climb stairs in order to get in. I always worry about guests slipping on the wet tile floor but they may have had no choice because the spa falls within the guestroom tower and the casino below wouldn't allow for the large drop in height for the whirlpools. This large whirlpool had three infinity edge tiers. The rumor has it that the pool wasn't designed properly because only two people can get in the whirlpool or the water pours over the last tier onto the floor where there isn't sufficient floor drains.
There was a seating area on one side of the pool and heated chaise lounges to the other. It always looks beautiful to have seating along the whirlpool area but often it makes guests uncomfortable if they are nude in the pool. They often feel self-conscious so we usually angle the seats away or provide a separate seating area.
The other feature within the space was another ring of water falling from the ceiling. Guests had the option to walk into it or around to get to the other two smaller whirlpools. It was a beautiful space whether you were looking at the water experiences or experiencing them--if you didn’t mind being watched!
There was a lot of circulation space that may be deemed unnecessary, but they created a cool feature near the Roman Baths and that was a robe sauna. This robe sauna is basically a heated closet which would heat up your robe for you when you were in the Roman Baths. It was adjacent to the baths but within an alcove highly visible from the entry/attendant desk so guests would have to walk naked 15 feet coming or going to the baths or robe sauna.
The locker areas themselves were mundane with no dry vanity areas to break up the space. The waiting lounge surprisingly had a television which is not typical in the women's lounge. Televisions often appear in men's locker areas, but women want more tranquility. The lounge was nothing special and included modular seating to maximize seating counts which makes sense with 51 treatment rooms. I would rather see cozy chairs and ottomans for guests to curl up in and fall asleep--especially since there is no regular co-ed lounge.
There was a laconium co-ed lounge which is a low heated inhalation room where you can wear your robe. The seats were sculpted and comfortable, but everything was tiled and the light was dim so you wouldn't be able to read a magazine but just fall asleep in the warm air. Doesn’t sound so bad huh?
Back in the locker room the vanity and sink areas were beautiful. The counter depths were large enough to include a foot recess behind the counters to house all the toiletries and equipment so as to keep the counters clean and empty. They had a little tiny bar sink on the vanity side that I thought was very clever for those girls like me who need to wash their hands while doing their make-up or hair.
The showers were spacious and beautifully tiled with room for a dressing area. Too bad there wasn't a teak bench to put your things or towels on while you showered. Perhaps it was an operational/maintenance thing although most spas we design include them and they seem to hold up.
Because the Roman Bath whirlpools were so far away from the other thermal areas, there was another whirlpool located adjacent to the sauna, steam and arctic rooms. Another guestroom tower was probably encroaching on the plan, but this whirlpool was elevated with a series of five risers. Again, you take the risk of guests falling down the stairs when wet. It was a beautiful water zone with large artwork on the walls. I came to find out this was a common theme throughout the spa--large prints of modern art stretching almost floor to ceiling. As for the thermal experiences, the arctic room was the cold experience of the thermal areas and even had fake/disco snow falling from the ceiling. It was a beautiful room with built in heated seats and a bench around an ice machine where you push a button, and the ice falls down a long metal tube hanging from the ceiling. You then take the ice shavings and rub them on your skin to give you the cold experience of the circuit. These days, these rooms are replacing the cold plunge. The circuits of these hot and cold thermal experiences are so beneficial to one's health and heart. They say it's like a natural angioplasty because the arteries contract and expand so the blood naturally cleans out all the guck in the arteries.
I lucked out with my tour guide/attendant because after the tour of the locker room she was willing to show me some of the treatment rooms. Again--wow! The treatment rooms were large and connected by seven foot corridors. It was great to see a new look on the same old treatment set-up. Upon entry, there was a round mirror on the far wall near the head of the treatment table. It was placed on the appropriate wall so the therapist, or "artisans" as they call them, can't see the guest nude when rotating on the table during the treatment. They name "artisan" for their staff because they create experiences for their guests through spa treatments. This concept reminds me of the Disneyland philosophy and how they call their staff "cast members"--very clever! Again, beautiful and almost floor to ceiling artwork was on the long wall opposite the millwork. The abstract modern art may be a little distracting for some, but the soft lighting overhead helped tone it down. The millwork and counter were clean, and the hot towel cabbie was exposed in the millwork for all to see (but was framed and placed low under the cabinet discretely). The colors of the room were dark and most rooms had wood floors except the two Vichy and three Hydrotherapy rooms which had tile. Again, all rooms were very spacious.
The wet rooms were grouped together at the center of the treatment zone, and included in this area is a room for doing crystal body art. I can't imagine spending the same as a treatment for body art but if money was no object...sure! Perhaps body art is popular in Las Vegas, but this room also doubles as a wellness counselor room for guests wanting to have a session on behavioral issues like weight loss, smoking or stress. Apparently the doctor works with hypnosis to help the guests.
The facial rooms were also grouped together in a zone around another open lounge space. This area also allows guests to wait in between treatments within the treatment area and not have to return to their locker room waiting lounges. All the facial equipment was exposed in the room which makes it easy for the therapists to access the equipment, but makes for a cluttered room. We typically like to see some floor to ceiling cabinets to hide some of the equipment.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised! But when you have 24 million dollars to spend, you are bound to have something beautiful!
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