SB Architects Design Round Table: Moving Toward Modern

This month, we kicked off our series of quarterly design roundtables, in which we gather a select group of our staff to sit down and talk about design issues that matter to us. We plan to mix it up, inviting different members if our staff to each roundtable, to keep our discussions evocative and thought-provoking – not only for us, but for our readers as well.

For our first roundtable, we discussed the movement toward contemporary architecture hotel and resort design. In this free-flowing discussion, our designers weighed in on contemporary design, experiential travel and our role as creators of the travel experience.

Here’s what they had to say:

SCOTT: We’ve seen the pendulum moving toward modern/contemporary aesthetic for a while now. Five years ago it wasn’t that prevalent, all sense of place came directly from the architectural history of the place. There’s still a worry on the part of some of our clients about alienating the target market, however Dorado Beach marked a change. It clearly signaled the success of a contemporary vocabulary. Bahia Beach is moving in that direction too, with the design of the new member’s pool complex.

BRUCE: Social media has had a profound effect on architecture, allowing many more people access and exposure to different architectural styles – historic and contemporary. The social sharing of knowledge and opinion is obvious in the sharing of interesting buildings. This democratization of the design process allows designers to push the envelope.

GIOVANNI: The definition of luxury has changed. Opulence is no longer the defining factor. It’s about experiential design, simple elegance. The millennial generation, which is the focus for the future, is experience-intensive. This will continue to drive the design of hotels. The movement away from conformity and brand loyalty shows up in the growth of independent hotels [in the portfolios of many of the major hotel brands].

SCOTT: “Current” and “relevant” are key defining concepts of the millennial travel experience – and that translates to contemporary architecture.

BRUCE: Here’s an example – the Waldorf Astoria in Beijing – it integrates the name, but re-invents the design ethos.

MATT: Authenticity is still key. Local influence and experience is critical, but it is much more about bringing the environment in, rather than mimicking it in the architecture.

DAVID L: It is certainly possible to create an experience – a connection to the history of a place – with a contemporary design solution. The Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown for example – a very modern design integrated with the re-use of an historic brick incinerator building.

SCOTT: Technology is another huge factor. Software allows us to render things in 3D, which helps sell and personalize modern design solutions.

ANA: With Revit, we can present everything in 3D. We have so many more tools now to support the sustainability of our design ideas.

MATT: The sustainability ultimatum will increase as millenials become the developers. They have been educated from an early age about experiential, climate-conscious design.

BRUCE: We are re-casting experience. This trend runs through everything we are doing, and applies across project types. You can see it in our design for Esplanade at Aventura – a mixed-use destination that incorporates hospitality. Again, social media is re-defining the game – the end-users of these projects are exposed to modern design and they appreciate it.

GIOVANNI: We are bolder in blending architectural periods, styles, influences. We can do that because our audience has been exposed to them. The education factor present in social media can’t be overstated. The challenge is to take the traditional elements that have developed in response to the topography and weather (large overhangs in the tropics), and translate them into a modern vocabulary.

MARK: Modern design plays a different role in creating a sense of place. It’s about restraints. Big design moves are about calling attention to the surroundings, rather than calling attention to the architecture itself. It is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, in our attention to detail and telling the story of the place, we get in the way of the actual experience. What travelers want is a real experience of place, rather than an overt re-telling of it from someone else’s viewpoint. Rather than translating history through architecture, and adding another layer, we need to be as transparent as possible.

GIOVANNI: Contemporary design allows more exposure to the exterior, and a transparency that supports indoor/outdoor spaces. Guest expectations for views have changed – no one will tolerate 6 feet of glass when they can have 12 and – unlike traditional Mediterranean proportions – contemporary proportions allow for flexible, open facades. And lobbies with continuous spaces that require big spans need modern architecture to pull it off.

KRISTOFFER: It’s also important to remember that good modern vocabulary is rooted in traditional design – classical proportions inform what works. We are just referencing history at a deeper level.

SCOTT: Another element is budget-conscious clients. In theory, superfluous decoration adds to cost – savings in these areas can be spent on service and the experience instead.

MARK: There is still a challenge in remaining cost-efficient. It may seem less expensive to strip away details, but zero-tolerance design is exacting, and can be expensive. High quality construction is critical.

DAVID R: In a modern vocabulary, the sense of place is conveyed primarily through materials. The number of design moves you have at your disposal is more limited, so you really have to get it right. Each decision is critical, which is exciting from a design standpoint.

Scott: Architecture has always been a balance of constraints. It is both an art and a business.

David R: When you really come down to it, “modernism” is an architectural period. What we are talking about here is translating the modern architecture vocabulary using contemporary materials and technologies.

DAVID L: When the budget is limited, the design solutions are more limited in scope, and will be at a more cosmetic level, rather than larger, more structural changes. But we can still capitalize upon technologies and the wish for connectedness.

MARK: Restraint is applicable at all star levels. The solutions may be carried out differently, but they will still work.

BRUCE: The architecture is the method. The goal is to create authentic, experiential hospitality –  that’s what is current, and different. It translates through all levels of hospitality. We are conduits for experience.