Hybrid Thinking and the Future of Hospitality
04.17.2015
Editorial Team in Dialogue 26

The Powerlong Huaxing Radisson Hotel in Shanghai. Image © Gensler

We recently spoke with Tomás Contreras, a regional practice area leader for Hospitality based in Gensler’s Shanghai office, who talked about hybrid design thinking and the role local cultures play in Asia’s burgeoning hospitality market.

Editorial Team (ET): How do you think leisure might be tied to certain places and cultures?

Tomás Contreras (TC): Think about the relationship between lifestyle and the modern concept of leisure. The social phenomenon of lifestyles has been an integral feature of the development of modernity, not least in the idea that lifestyles are a particularly significant representation of the quest for individual identity that is also such a defining characteristic of the modern global world. Through today’s smart technology and globalization, a global “hybrid” concept of leisure is undertaken our life’s everywhere. Local cultures are not anymore offering resistance and we can clearly see the signals of a constant mutation even in the toughest cultural environments.

ET: How local do different concepts of leisure get?

TC: One of our mottos is thinking globally plus acting locally yields something we call hybrid design thinking, which in turn produces the best results.

In the postmodern world, which is characterized by a rapidly changing cultural environment, we do not see a dramatic differentiation between leisure styles. Millennials are reacting with a unique capacity of adaptation and demanding a more dynamic stimulating and diverse market response. Asia is a good example of an extremely fast changing cultural environment, the old conventional concept of privacy is moving fast towards exposure. We recognize as well that particularly in countries like Japan and China the need of privacy is still a symptom of an extremely transactional business tradition that today is in a deep state of transformation…

The Wenzhou Port Group Marriott Hotel. Image © Gensler

ET: Why is hybrid thinking important in designing spaces, especially in hospitality?

TC: When we start our intellectual approach to any particular project we embrace our statement—"our hybrid thinking design process." Hybrid thinking require that the components behind the ideas are multidisciplinary is not only a multidisciplinary team is a “team of multidisciplinary people.”

Our team is composed of people who have worked in different professional environments—architecture, interior design, branding and research—and come from different cultural backgrounds. Even when we brainstorm we generate hybrid ideas which are always strongly represented in the final product.

Hybrid is everywhere. The concept of global leisure gives us the ability for “hybrid thinking.” Today people work everywhere with their phones, iPads and laptops. Millennials are not just going to F&B spaces to enjoy the culinary art, but as well to experience business. This can happen in a restaurant or in a hotel lobby or even in office buildings’ public spaces. An examples of our response to this is in our ideal hotel lobby plan, where we activate the public space from three perspectives - Technological, Commercial and Aesthetic - achieving a fully immerse experience capable to capture all kinds of audiences and most important, a space that is in constant functional and operational mutation.

You also have to remember that hotels are so much more than just a room. Often when people think about a hotel they are thinking “guest rooms,” but guest rooms are becoming less protagonist. Functionally they matter. You need a space, and you need certain private amenities, but a lot of those amenities are moving towards public spaces.

Millennials and Gen Xers are approaching the primes their careers, and in doing so they are driving pushing global trends. They spend more and they demand more experiences. Those experiences happen in social spaces, so through them we are developing an “experiential model for hotels.”

People start gathering in the public spaces of hotels. Let’s take Shanghai as an example. Come the weekend, the sky is grey and doesn’t have much in the way of nature to enjoy. So people go to bars to socialize. Many of the best ones are inside of the city’s five-star hotels—so it is for the great restaurants and bars inside that people recognize hotels, not for the rooms. That public appeal is giving us the chance to create a match-up of experiences and offer more than the room. In fact, we have an approach called "we are more than a room" that we are trying to leverage more in the local market.

The CATIC Kunshan Five Star Hotel. Image © Gensler

ET: How does customization vary in different places, to address local cultures and markets?

TC: Our society has become more and more digital. Technology is transforming hospitality from one-to-one interactions to self-service and personal convenience. In many places luxury now has a lot to do with re-creating that human interaction in a way that has value.

But in the other sense, there is a general trend to minimize the footprint, and a growing appreciation of space. Japan was already more compact, but beyond that, they also celebrate spaces in a different way. As in the German Bauhaus, in Japan we are talking about less is more and form following function. But the Japanese sense of minimalism and space reflects the spiritual concentration of the beliefs and practices there.

In China, it's different. For complex historic reasons, people are celebrating the current expansion of luxury in a very visible way. But again, with new information and architectural firms influencing the market, those spaces are also becoming smarter and better representing what the global trends are pushing.

ET: What are some of the differences among the different places where you’ve worked in China?

TC: Shanghai, Beijing, and Sanya, I would say, are the three most characteristic cities of China in terms of Hospitality growth. Shanghai stands for China in terms of commercial growth, Beijing is representative of state and political power, and Sanya is the resort capital of China, which is growing economically quite substantially.

Our work in Shanghai reflects the commercial emphasis of the city, and is more tailored to its many business travelers. Our projects there also represent the multicultural environment of Shanghai, whereas in Beijing we approach projects in a more traditional way, to make them representative of historic culture.

Sanya is a great city which has been developing so quickly as well. Being the most southern tip of China and along the coast, it has become the warm weather get away with most of the hotel and resort brands having a strong presence there. In fact, traveling to Sanya can be more costly of a beach getaway than going to some of the nearby beaches in the Philippines or Vietnam for example. However Chinese will rather pay more, and stay in China.

But Shanghai also has a natural icon—the Huangpu River, which defines the city and creates two different clusters – Pudong and Puxi. The center of Pudong has all of the skyscrapers and is more commercial, it was farmland not long ago. Puxi, where we are, is approachable, built to a more residential scale. So these districts, their location and history also influence the way we think and design here.

This article is an extension of an interview conducted by Sarah Amelar for Dialogue 26, "World of Leisure: Asia and Australia.” Amelar writes for Dwell, Architectural Record, and the New York Times.

Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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