With numerous bespoke hospitality projects in his portfolio including the Park Hyatt Shanghai (shown below, right) and Park Hyatt Washington D.C., as well as Hong Kong’s Spoon and Tokyo’s The Oak Door restaurants, tonychi and associates's Tony Chi is a top choice to keynote this year’s Hospitality Design Boutique Exposition & Conference (HD Boutique), held September 13 to September 14 at the Miami Convention Center in Miami, Florida. The founder and principal of the global firm spoke yesterday to the heart of the profession during his afternoon presentation, discussing the importance for hospitality designers to not just create a beautiful space but one that has soul.
Chi speaks with Contract about the current hospitality design market and shares his views on the evolution of design.
1. What is the current state of the hospitality design industry? Where do you see the most and least growth and why is this the case?
I do not limit my consideration to a particular country or territory in terms of growth. Despite the economic challenges we are facing, we should not just limit ourselves to measure opportunities based on monetary terms. Instead, we should gage to determine where a design vision can successfully be formulated. Do the designer and the client believe in the design?
2. How has the hospitality design market changed over the last decade, and what has influenced these changes?
The restaurant business and the hospitality industry overall has become mired in a fabricated formality transcending a “professional graciousness” from an earlier time. For example, when my mother took me to restaurants in the 70s, the maitre d’ would take her hand and say, “I’m so happy you walked in my door.” Now they say, “Do you have reservations?” The industry has become too focused on beautiful design and not functionality.
3. How do you see hospitality design evolving to in the future?
The gap within cultures is increasingly narrowing due to globalization, and I think that today’s current economic challenges present an opportunity to discover the source of who we are designing for—the patron. These times are a turning point to return to basics and discover what makes the dining experience truly enjoyable.
4. In your keynote at HD Boutique, you spoke about how to deliver beyond aesthetics. Many think of hospitality design as just “dazzling spaces,” so what does it take to give a design that added “soul” you refer to?
Hospitality is the art of communal consumption which is an ancient and primal act. For example, successful restaurant design transcends mere aesthetics to deliver context as well as content. I have been a restauranteur and sharing food is an intense bonding experience. It is much about the tangible aspects as it is about the operational foresight: the meal, the music, the lighting. All these elements should be combined holistically in the design to create magical moments.
5. What do you feel is the greatest challenge hospitality designers face today? How do you recommend they confront these challenges?
The greatest challenge for designers is to recall the patron; they are the source and the most important part of the design. What is beautiful design without functionality? You can create a beautiful car but you need to have someone drive that car. There needs to be a redefinition of mannerisms and style to interpret the heart of hospitality. Designers must view the space holistically to discover this interpretation.
6. Any personal design mentors or inspirations?
I am very intrigued with the Glass House by Philip Johnson and his design interpretation of an open space. I would like to explore more of his vision and his inspiration.
7. What is your definition of design?
Design is the organization of the chaos within, defining the soul within the space. It is not just the aesthetics but the holistic integration of all the elements with that space.
8. How would you like people to remember your designs?
I would like people to remember what they have experienced and their emotions in a particular space. It is still a comforting and special thing to know that people can sit down and break bread with family, a friend, or even a stranger and that the design enhanced and contributed to that experience.