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Rethinking Hospitality: An Interview with Forth Bagley

Taking home a four-award haul at AHEAD Asia 2020 for Rosewood Hong Kong, Kohn Pedersen Fox Principal Forth Bagley sits down with Sleeper to talk defining skylines and guilt-free luxury.

Note

This story has been adapted from an interview by Sleeper editor Kristofer Thomas. The piece was published in Sleeper's 92nd issue in September 2020.
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How did you approach creating a flagship for Rosewood in its home city?

It was an interesting project that was tied to a much broader urban regeneration plan by the owner, involving the repositioning of The Avenue of the Stars and the introduction of a mixed-use lifestyle district at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. This has traditionally been a tourist trap, and one of those areas all cities have where locals don’t really go.

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The Avenue of Stars is a waterfront path that runs along Victoria Dockside. Images courtesy of Virgile Bertrand.

The charge for Rosewood Hong Kong was really a wider urban proposition: how do you create a public neighborhood that locals want to keep returning to? A lot of this thinking was really informed by our work on Covent Garden, where for 20 years we’ve been looking to gradually reposition the neighborhood into a place that residents want to hang around.

The Avenue of the Stars in Hong Kong is similar, and we talked with the operator about how we could create a hotel that does the same kind of thing: to change the demographic in the lobby away from tourists to include locals and residents as well.

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The Rosewood Hong Kong, part of the Victoria Dockside development. Images courtesy of Virgile Bertrand for KPF.

When taking on large-scale projects that alter a city's skyline, what elements do you consider?

In the context of Rosewood Hong Kong, it’s probably the tallest building ever constructed that close to the harbor, and will likely remain that way thanks to the zoning. The project itself was a renovation off the back of an older envelope, and it would be almost impossible to build something of that height and density so close to the water again. From the very beginning, this idea pushed us towards an architecture that didn’t call attention to itself.

We completed The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong a number of years ago, where the aim was to create a new piece of the skyline and a business-facing destination, but for Rosewood we were explicitly trying to take a very big building and break it down into a number of components. Every project is different of course; for Rosewood Bangkok it was about creating an iconic piece of architecture that would stand alongside the commercial corridor’s existing buildings, whilst in Guangzhou it was deconstructing the notion of a totally symmetrical tower and adding some visual interest.

Every time we approach these buildings, the ask on the skyline is different, and you have to look at it not in ten-year increments but in centuries; these buildings leave cultural memories and can take society in certain directions.

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Rosewood Bangkok and a view of the terrace pool. Images courtesy of Connie Zhou.
"You have to look at [the impact] not in ten-year increments but in centuries; these buildings leave cultural memories and can take society in certain directions."

How have you seen the APAC region evolve during your time at KPF?

Throughout the history of the hotel room, there has been an attempt to replicate a living or bedroom space – something you might find in a house. The work we did with Hyatt in Tokyo and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong back at the start of the millennium was an attempt not just to separate hotel from house, but to elevate the hotel into an experience you could never imagine having at home.

At that moment in time there was a conscious decision by many operators to switch the paradigm, leading to this current boom in style. This was also tied to economic growth in China that remains unparalleled in human history, which has kind of become the driving force for a lot of luxury brands. The confluence of those two things has influenced a lot of what we’ve seen in the last 20 years, and this will continue as well.

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Grand Hyatt Tokyo
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Interiors of KPF-designed hotels. From left to right: The Andaz Xintiandi, interiors by Super Potato, image courtesy Hyatt Hotels. Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Roppongi Hills, interiors by Remedios Siembieda, image courtesy of Nacasa and Partners, Hyatt Hotels. The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, interiors by Tihany Design, image courtesy of Mandarin Oriental. Aman Tokyo, The Otemachi Tower, interiors by Kerry Hill, image courtesy of Nacasa and Partner, Aman.

What kind of design trends do you think will drive the market in coming years?

There has already been a significant redefinition of what luxury means, reorienting it towards a level of comfort as opposed to the traditional glitz and glamour. Some people just don’t have the time to devote days to consuming luxury in the same way they used to, so now they’re looking for comfort.

We started to see how this could work during our work on Rosewood Hong Kong, and how it has started to affect other elements. Electronics for example, and the simplification of interfaces - there’s one button for the blinds, one for the lights. Hotel guests are being asked to make so many decisions every day, and the more the operator can reduce that, and simplify an experience for the better, the more it will resonate with the audience.

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Outdoor deck at Rosewood Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Owen Raggett, Rosewood Hotels.

How has technology played into the role of hospitality architecture?

Whilst hotels are competing with each other, there is also a competition going on between physical spaces and digital applications. This is a broader trend, but important because it shows what we’re asking architecture to do has been elevated. When we started work on Hudson Yards the iPhone hadn’t been invented, so in the space of that project we not only saw its invention, but its adoption as a ubiquitous form of communication and entertainment, and all the change it brought with it.

"Time is becoming the most valuable commodity – if you can pull people away from their phone or work for just a minute then those projects tend to be viewed as successful."

In this sense, you’re now starting a project from such a different place than you were 10 years ago, and in hotels this is especially true. It’s not just about ease of entry now, but creating spaces in which people want to linger. Time is becoming the most valuable commodity – if you can pull people away from their phone or work for just a minute then those projects tend to be viewed as successful.

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The lobby of Aman Tokyo. Image courtesy of Nacasa and Partners, Aman.

How did you apply this to your recent projects?

We were very conscious of not only creating moments of beauty that people could record and memorialize, but also cohesive experiences that you really had to be in the place to fully appreciate. Whether that meant the content would change periodically with spaces that could rotate and move, or whether the visuals were just so special that this would be the only place to see them, there was always the goal of creating a hotel that when someone said they’re going to Hong Kong then they would be recommended the Rosewood without a second thought.

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The drop-off at Bulgari Beijing (left), image courtesy of H.G. Esch. Xintiandi with Langham and Andaz hotels in the background (right), image courtesy of ShuHe.

How do you think the issues of sustainability and environmentalism will develop?

The conversations we’ve been having with operators and owners have been much more urgent. 30 years ago people were building very universal responses to the hotel. You could go from Calgary to Tel Aviv and sometimes see the same design. So with the emergence of the sense of place philosophy, and the emphasis on mixed-use projects where the hotels are integrated into 24-hour functions, we’ve seen a rise in architecture that’s actually responsive to climate and the aesthetic legacy of these places - themselves often intuitive responses to issues of sustainability.

"[W]ith the emergence of the sense of place philosophy, and the emphasis on mixed-use projects where the hotels are integrated into 24-hour functions, we’ve seen a rise in architecture that’s actually responsive to climate and the aesthetic legacy of these places."
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Rosewood Hong Kong is LEED Gold certified and includes many outdoor spaces for guests to explore. Image courtesy of Owen Raggett.

What I’ve noticed over the past five years in our work is just how eager owners and operators are to incorporate smart technology into both hotel rooms and hotel experiences, which can only have a positive environmental effect on the buildings. In the reverse, it’s also about consumption without guilt. In the next 10 years I would expect more emphasis on this idea, as well as brands emerging that are totally focused on the sustainable lifestyle.

In this industry we all fly, and lots of us feel terrible about it. An obvious development in that sense would be airline and hotel operators working to create a platform for consumption where you feel simultaneously rejuvenated and guilt-free. I can’t really think of a greater luxury than that.

What does KPF have in the pipeline?

We’re working on a few of projects around the world at the moment. We have The Royal Atlantis in Dubai set for completion next year; a Mandarin Oriental in the Mediterranean, and a couple of Rosewood properties in store too.

2019 was a very strong year for us, and we came into 2020 on the back of openings like Park Hyatt Shenzhen and Rosewood Hong Kong, as well as the Rosewoods in Guangzhou and Bangkok, Bulgari Hotel Beijing, The Mandarin Oriental Beijing and Aman Tokyo. The Aman has been open for a couple of years now, but it really set the tone for this group of projects.

The Royal Atlantis reinforces and reimages one of the world’s most iconic hospitality brands.

Read the original interview in Sleeper here.