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The Great Escape

By Robert Nieminen

Robert Nieminen Editor

On Saturday, March 19th, just three days before I began writing this editorial, an international coalition including the United States, United Kingdom and France officially launched airstrikes against Libya in what has been named Operation Odyssey Dawn. Five days prior, Saudi Arabian troops crossed over into neighboring Bahrain after security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Manama. Before that, protests and violence from Egypt to Tunisia to Yemen dominated the headlines, just in case you haven't checked your news app lately.

As the political climate in the Middle East reaches a boiling point, and a potential nuclear meltdown looms in Japan following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, we here in the U.S. watch with bated breath, wondering what impact these world events will have on our nation. And when we're not watching the news, we do what human beings are naturally inclined to do in uncertain times like these—we seek respite.

You may be thinking: what does this have to do with interior design? A lot, actually. At the heart of one of the latest trends in hospitality design is the concept of escapism—creating new experiences and sanctuaries for every type of traveler that go beyond themed or branded properties, and allowing guests to immerse themselves in an environment and decompress. In fact, according to the hospitality design consultants at WATG, it's not enough for a hotel to label itself as business or leisure anymore, as the lines between them are becoming increasingly blurry and people are looking for diversions even in business hotels.

Mark Weaver, AIA, principal and partner at Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) echoed this notion not long ago in an issue of IIDA's Perspective magazine when he said, "Hospitality design specifically strives to target the five senses to create an uplifting and soothing environment for decompression and escapism. My goal as a hospitality designer is to create design experiences that elicit passion, beauty and cultural identity through innovative design concepts that inspire the guest, stimulate the senses and engage emotion."

Interestingly, our cover story (The Presidential Tour) not only excites the senses by taking design cues from the "cacophony of patterns and colors, motion and sound" of Times Square where the project is located, but also pays homage to the history of the American presidency and pokes fun at our two-party system through a concept called "narrative design," a term Mike Suomi, principal and head of interiors at Stonehill & Taylor Architects, uses to describe the storyline that inspired the design of the aptly named Best Western President Hotel.

"It's always gratifying to use design to comment in both profound and lighthearted ways on real-world issues," Suomi says. With some masterful riffs on politics, the President Hotel is an example of epic storytelling that leaves the themed hotels of the past … well, in the past.

The design team from the international firm DiLeonardo took a distinctly different approach to the Kempinski Hotel Yinchuan in China (A Modern Oasis) by forgoing local architectural and cultural influences, and giving the city of Yinchuan's burgeoning business district its first taste of European luxury. Designed around the concept of being a modern oasis in an area striving to become a global business destination, the hotel will be a welcome haven to business travelers and tourists alike.

Even as we are slowly emerging from one of the deepest recessions in recent history, uncertainty is still the predominant outlook in both economic and political circles. How will the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan affect the global economy, and will a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East have positive or negative effects on us and our allies? As the answers unfold, we can be sure of—good or bad—people's desire (or need) to find refuge from the pace and pressures of the everyday. And therein lies an opportunity for hospitality designers to help us escape and find comfort in a well-designed space.


Correction: In our March issue article, "A Dose of Hospital(ity)," The Methodist Hospital Research Institute was incorrectly identified as part of The Methodist Hospital Outpatient Center (designed by WHR Architects), one of many facilities operated by The Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center. We regret the error.