Leave a lasting impression, set the pace, raise the bar, and be original
2016 may be remembered for the passing of a multitude of creative geniuses that have shaped generations of people. Music that has served as the soundtrack of our lives, screenplays and books we savored for their wit and insight. Actors whose characters enthralled us in the quiet darkness of a movie theater. Leaders who pioneered change in the political landscape to improve people’s rights and give them a better chance at life. Anyone with ambition and vision hopes that in some small way that what they do while they are here on this planet may in some way be remembered. An unknown teacher with a passion for their student’s education can leave a legacy unknown to themselves or the wider world.
Businesses with a heart and especially in a creative field like design hope that what they do will leave a lasting impression, and that in some way they will have set the pace, raised the bar, and been original. There’s one thing about legacy, it’s something that lives on in what is created and in what is passed on to the next generation. Are you the David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher of design?
“It’s what we’re about. We have a legacy of we are all in this together“
It’s easy to become enamored with what WATG do, but like the explanation of a great art work by a learned curator, speaking with the Senior Leaders helps paint the picture of the passion for design that has driven the organization for 70 years. If you ask Perry Brown what legacy projects mean to him, he says “I think it’s the one’s that moved us some place. Lost City with Jerry Allison was certainly a legacy project. Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel in California and Lego in the UK are things that did something for the Firm. The core of each of these projects is being true to the design, and doing the very best we can. It shows through in all these kinds of projects”.
To make an impact and to stand out creatively you have to be prepared to take risk and step off the edge. WATG made that first move from their Hawaii based operation when they committed to being on the North American mainland in 1980. And similarly with the Lego project in the early 90’s they were not tentative but set up operations in the UK and have been there ever since. It’s a leap of faith that’s paid off because they don’t work in silos. As Perry continues “Even as we expand we are still going to be this group where we all there for each other. We are still in the same group, we’re still operating as one firm. This was important to us back then, and it’s still important to us now. Annual Senior Leader retreats remind us of our one team approach, it’s what we’re about. We have a legacy of we are all in this together”.
The global cohesion is one aspect, but then there is the design which is so unique, it is rooted in storytelling. Examples are many, but as Perry mentions, Lost City is a clear testimony in this respect. Perry was early on in his career with WATG when he visited this landmark project. He got to see firsthand the collaboration and partnership with the client. The stories and myth created by Jerry Allison for the basis for the design. It was original and unlike anything that had been seen before and as a result became a resort icon. The lore became a tool, but the stories live on, a true legacy.
This originality is what segued with the same client, Sol Kerzner, into Atlantis Bahamas and Atlantis Dubai. Clients want to be at the forefront of doing something new, innovative, different, and spectacular. They want to be talked about, to set the pace, and to be the first. It’s what WATG do so well, they want to be authentic and pioneering to change the face of tourism and contribute to the future of a destination. That’s what legacy is all about, doing something that is perceived as having been a moment of change, a pin point in the history of hospitality, a punctuation mark. The beauty of working with this client was as Perry notes “The ability to free yourself up and not be constrained by style, we were able to make up our own vocabulary architecturally”.
WATG show the difference between people who set the pace and those who do work based on fear. The avant-garde artists in the arts can push the limit. As a firm they can’t do that, in the end what makes WATG different from the others is they’re creative but not reckless about it. They put things in place to safeguard themselves and the clients. It takes a big commitment from both sides to get to a point of being able to say that something is a Legacy project. As Perry says “Relationships come first, location comes second. We’re coming to you based on the relationship, not because you’re in this part of the world”. That’s why WATG is able to work anywhere.
When talking to Tom Fo about the legacy of WATG, he speaks of the importance of knowledge. “Sharing whatever I learn and try coach these young people as much as possible so the firm can continue. The firm should keep going and that’s what I am hoping for. Working for Jerry Allison and some of our other partners over the past 30 years, feel it’s my responsibility to also share some of this with the younger people on my team”.
If you ask Tom about a particular project that he would consider a legacy his thoughts turn to The Venetian in Las Vegas. Tom specialized early on in the gaming area of hotel and resort design, and this one was a real game changer. Venice as a destination was a passion of the clients, it was after all a destination with a lot of iconic architecture, and a civilization theme was what was being requested. What was original about this project was the massive scale and authentic detail that had not been seen before. Creating a real canal with bridges and then having the singing gondoliers become part of the guest arrival sequence, was special and as timeless as Venice itself.
With suites at 700 square feet and a level of design luxury not seen in Vegas before, it actually lead the way in a change to tourism in Las Vegas. It was a big part of the evolution of Vegas as a luxury resort destination that could attract people who were not necessarily gamblers, people wanted to come for the experience. Luxury hospitality had really arrived with WATG being pioneers and originators once again. It’s a resort that stands the test of time, and still pulls a crowd.
Tom worked with Jerry Allison a lot in his career and agrees that he really was the Disney of architecture. It’s no wonder that Disney themselves have worked consistently with WATG over many decades. Disney are also people who creatively have formed a legacy that lives on. The animated films Snow White 1938 and the 101 Dalmatians 1961 have something in common. Originality that continues to delight across generations. They saw in WATG people who were similar in their thinking and ethos. As Tom says “They like hiring us because our cultures are the same, we think about the guest experience and consistency with the story. They know everything about hotels and resorts”. The legacy is generations of families who relish the Disney experience in a WATG designed hotel or resort.
Things can also come full circle when you think of WATG starting out 70 years ago in Hawaii, and now working with Chinese investment in the west side of the island of Oahu. Wherever tourism starts to emerge or reignite, WATG are there with the seedlings, designing hotels and resorts that will be the future legacy of that destination. If there was to be a museum dedicated to hotel and resort design, there is no question that WATG would be a centerpiece of that global story.
As for the future? Well look out for a spectacular resort in Cyprus that will likely change the perception of this destination and bring in a whole new crowd of visitors. Richard Branson is going galactic, how about WATG? The team have been around as long as man has travelled into space. A residential project on Mars or the Moon? A resort for galactic travelers? It would be a shame if it were not WATG that designed it, but come to think of it, it probably will be them. They’re all about legacy, why stop now?