THE STORY OF SUCCESSFUL HOTEL DESIGN
As one of the world’s largest hotel operators, Accor offers a collection of hotels and resorts in dream destinations and prides itself in offering memorable experiences to guests through sumptuous food, lush environments, and comfortable rooms you won’t ever want to leave.
Design plays an important part in the guest experience, and the Group works with the best in the industry to bring inspiring concepts to life. So what do Sofitel Mumbai, Pullman Fiji, and Ibis Styles Surabaya all have in common? Their designer, the talented and eclectic Isabelle Miaja….
Miaja’s international interior design firm provides hospitality design solutions for luxury brand hotels and resorts, corporate developments and high-end residential clients around the world. The designer has lent her inspiration to the construction of several Accor properties across Asia Pacific, including the acclaimed SO/ Sofitel Singapore and the stunning Pullman Maldives Maamutaa.
Many different elements come into play when conceptualising a hotel design, so where does a designer such as Miaja begin to find the right inspiration for what’s to become a sought-after dwelling with the perfect balance of design, local, brand and concept?
At the start of every new project, it is essential to hone in on three major areas: location, targeted clientele, and collaboration with both owner and brand teams to ensure a perennial project from a design and operational perspective.
Each project is designed around a shared vision; it takes a lot of discussion and time for deliberation before choosing the direction of a design. Ultimately, architecture often leads the concept and gives the project its foundation in more ways than one.
Each brand has its own set of standards, understanding and assimilating them into the design work early helps to create a hotel that fits the brand, and answers guest expectations. Setting these parameters first is crucial to give the right foundation to the project.
“It may sound funny to say that projects ‘speak to me’, but it is the best way to describe the way it feels when I start a project,” says Miaja. “The painter lets the brush run on the canvas, and the violinist lets the bow move on the strings – I do the same on paper. There is no magic in that, just a lot of work to understand all aspects from all angles, assimilating the needs laid out to us during initial meetings. Once all the information is gathered, you then have almost to forget everything, close your eyes and let the project speak for itself and tell you what it should become. Once I know, then it is my job to convey the message and make it as straightforward as possible for the teams and all other stakeholders.”
The destination is also a highly influential factor: hotel designs should seamlessly fit with the country, city or resort environment. The aim is to attract interest and curiosity through a design that “belongs”, yet sets new benchmarks against the surrounding properties. The most successful design is found when local guests are impressed with a new property and embrace it, as it enhances their daily lives and offers unique experiences.
The design must maintain a sense of belonging and authenticity whilst pushing certain boundaries by focusing on a cultural aspect that may have been forgotten or just reinvented. If we compare it to storytelling, often the story can be the same, yet the writer puts a different spin, bringing a new light to it. It is the same with design.
DIFFUSING LOCAL TOUCHES
The local touch is what makes a project successful – although some project owners deliberately choose to move away from it.
“I personally like the idea of shaking the expected and being bold, bringing new concepts,” shares Miaja. “On the other hand, bringing the old to make the new, reviving lost traditions or setting new ones, and bringing back to life forgotten skills are all enriching experiences that should be part of a designer’s path.”
Miaja’s most recent project with Accor is the stunning Pullman Maldives Maamutaa, the first Pullman island resort in the world. Finding the perfect language, blending the Pullman brand into the Maldives represented an exciting challenge. The Pullman brand is all about contemporary lines. Architecturally, the design team looked at mixing a modern approach with a resort feel and the Maldivian culture. The result is in each villa’s distinctive thatched roof (see photo) that recalls the Maldivian striped sarong, symbolising the country’s national costume. Pullman is about modernity, and the stripes, although intrinsically Maldivian, are also very contemporary.
Miaja shares: “I wanted Pullman Maamutaa to be distinctively recognised from the air. While flying over the atolls in seaplanes, travellers often enjoy spotting resorts; recognising each of them from their distinctive designs and shapes. Now Pullman Maldives is part of the Maldivian seascape, and I am very proud of that!”
Art was also a significant part of the resort’s design, taking a bold and unique approach through Street Artist Mad C (see photo), a renowned artist tasked with painting the resort’s facades with her amazing colourful strokes. From selecting subjects to painting buildings, art helps enrich each project with individuality. According to Miaja, the Arts and Culture represent one of the few areas in society where people can come together to share an experience.
BRINGING ART INTO THE HEART OF A HOTEL
Art is either a disruption or a continuation of a story. To begin, a storyline is created – what is referred to in art galleries as a curation. Nothing in a curation is randomly chosen; artists are brought together, and their different styles are specifically chosen to enhance the overall design. Like pieces of a puzzle, it all creates a dynamic interaction between the place, the people and its artists.
“I am proud of each and every one of my projects with Accor. There is always in the life of every creative person a defining moment that changes one’s perspective and brings forth a new path. When I met Fabrice Mini – the former General Manager ofPullman Jakarta Central Park and now Director of Operations for Accor Midscale & Economy Hotels in Java & Sulawesi – it was during the construction of the hotel. As an art collector and supporter of many artists himself, Fabrice often helps local artists when they need to sell a painting to feed their family. Together, we started the journey of transforming the hotel into an “Art Museum” by meeting local artists and artisans in Yogyakarta, then in Bali. It was a great adventure of discoveries with the support of the hotel team and the owners, and meeting delightful people in the process.”
Designing Pullman Jakarta Central Park was the beginning of a new era in Miaja’s designs. She has always been an “art aficionado”. Upon starting her work on this property, she remembers walking into a concrete building awaiting to be designed and had the vision of a modern museum – similar to the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York City), and leaving the structure raw to let the Art be the main focus. That journey into the Arts was a mind opener, and an endearing learning curve on Indonesia’s current generation and their interpretation of everyday life expressed through Art. Since then, Miaja has never approached a project without first considering the artistic aspect, a great way to bring in local talent and support the art scene by bringing them into the design process of the hotel right from the start.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH BUILDING HOTELS
When asked about relationship building throughout a project, Miaja says: “I often wonder how I manage to bring all these people to agree on my suggestions as an architect and designer. First and foremost, my task is to understand the project itself – not to say that the other stakeholders don’t matter, ultimately we work together as a team. To be able to create, the design process and inspiration need to flow without too many barriers and trying to please others has often proven to be detrimental to a successful design.”
“I remember the look of disbelief of the owner of Sofitel Mumbai BKC when I told him I wanted to create a life-size metal sculpture of an elephant to sit on the water pond the Landscape Architect had created on the fourth floor of the building. I recall him looking at his friend and saying: “The ideas she comes up with…” It was not a ‘Yes’, or a ‘No’, but I had to be persuasive, and fortunately, I had the General Manager and the Project Manager’s support to get the idea through. Ultimately, I got the green light to create Jyran, and to this day, he still stands tall on the pond overlooking Mumbai BKC.”
As with all projects – working as a team and with people who have adequate experience is already half the battle won!