Friday, July 3, 2009


I subscribe to a lot of architecture magazines. Some are aimed at a professional architects, others are general audience magazines. Surprisingly, one of the best architecture periodicals is not specifically about architecture. Hospitality Design, published monthly by Nielsen Business Media, New York, is primarily for hotel executives, marketing directors, and interior designers who need to be aware of what is going on in the hospitality industry.

Hospitality Design reports on hotels, casinos, spas, resorts, and restaurants of all sorts. Of course, architecture is a big part of this. Even when restaurants are built within existing structures (as in a casino, for example) many of them are so large that they take on an architectonic scale with all the accompanying concerns of structure and design. Hospitality Design devotes a lot less ink to technical analysis than do professional architectural journals. There is little architectural jargon but plenty of lush photography. Featured projects investigate corners of the architectural world that most people don’t see except on vacation. Even though the projects are retail or commercial, many of the photographs provide inspiration for custom homes and private offices. After all, spas and hotel rooms require the same fixtures and furnishings as a home. The materials and products in Hospitality Design would be of interest to anyone who appreciates design. Even the advertisements highlight things you do not see anywhere else. I look forward to every issue, always heavy with pictures and short on words.

The ideas in Hospitality Design run the gamut of price and style. What makes the hospitality industry interesting, and, by extension, provides rich material for this magazine, is the fact that things change fast in restaurants and hotels. Las Vegas is a good example. A restaurant in a resort hotel has a shelf life of three to five years. After that it is old news and must be remodeled and rebranded. Everything needs to be fresh for a fickle audience. New restaurants must offer innovative environments that haven’t been seen anywhere else. This aims to pique our interest and draw us in. Word of mouth – the buzz – is the best form of advertising. In the hospitality industry, good design is good business. Design matters here in a down-to-business analytical way. In one sense this is refreshing because usually we’re reduced to abstract concepts to justify good design. Hotels, restaurants, nightclubs are stage sets for the customers they serve. People go to these places to feel important or glamorous or to experience some specific emotional resonance. The hospitality industry has always understood this intuitively. My favorite examples of this understanding are the works of Morris Lapidus. He is famous for some of the great Miami Beach hotels of the 1950s, among them Fountainbleu and Eden Roc. Dismissed as kitsch by serious architecture critics when they were built, they have since been revisited as brilliant examples of postmodern delight with a clear understanding of the theatricality that people craved – at least in their fantasy vacation spots.

To accomplish all of this theatricality the budgets for these venues are astonishing. I am always amazed that after spending many millions of dollars on a new restaurant the owners can still make it up in profits. And have enough money to do it all over again when time comes to remodel. Of course, they are not all successful. My father, who knew many restaurateurs, often told me the restaurant business was the riskiest around. I never aspired to be part of it. But we can all enjoy the lively design forays that the hospitality industry makes as evidenced in the pages of Hospitality Design.

Some of these places are very elegant and serious.

Others are whimsical, like this nightclub in New York.

The bubbly glass spheres and LED light display are Bruce Goff on steroids and a big budget.

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