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23 May 2012
James Dilley shares with Luo Jingmei his design for the W London – Leicester Square and his thoughts on the hospitality industry.
James Dilly is the Associate Director of the hotel and interior design department of Jestico+Whiles. Under his leadership, the London- and Prague-based, award-winning architecture firm has put on the global map some of the most innovative hospitality designs. We speak with the amiable architect who was recently in Singapore for the Hospitality Design Furniture Converge Asia Conference 2012.
The firm is quite selective in the projects it takes on. How do you define what you have termed as 'special' projects?
It doesn't necessarily mean special to other people – special doesn't mean 5 stars plus luxury. [For example], I'm working on a new budget concept for a hotel that's built from shipping containers in West Africa. It's adding something new to the project. When somebody wants to create a hotel that looks the same as the [other] 99 they build around the world, we're not really the right people to do it.
Jestico+Whiles designed the sophisticated interiors of the Yas Hotel
When you first started out 17 years ago, the idea of the boutique hotel wasn't as popular as it is now...
It was quite a new concept really. At that time, it was coming across from the Atlantic in the States where Ian Schrager had been starting boutique hotels, with Morgons Hotel, etc... although it's not that new. Basically, it's a tailored service with the highest levels of excellence in service [and] a unique environment. You know, there have been hotels that have been doing that for [a long time]. Look at the Raffles Hotel here. It's one of the famous 'Grand Dame' hotels of the world and it's approach is not that different from the boutique hotels that have risen a hundred years since.
The Asymtote-designed Yas Hotel straddles the new Formula One in Abu Dhabi
What do you feel is the difference in terms of client and user demands now, compared to 10 years ago?
[Now], the actual movement from A to B isn't such a big [activity] as it used to be. People travel lighter – they carry less clothing because they can get things laundered, [for instance]. Technology [also] means people are travelling with iPhones, iPads. They're constantly in touch with their home base – their clients, friends, whoever. A lot of requirements (like concierges and in-house equipment) are not really necessary but there're still some hotels with alarm clocks in their rooms – one [more item] cluttering up the [space]. So, it's stripping out a lot of things people don't appreciate and somehow perceive they're paying for, [passing down] the savings and giving them an experience that's just as good.
Yas Hotel's calming rooms are a contrast to its invigorating facade
Tell us about the design of the W London – Leicester Square. How does it relate to its context?
This is entirely contextual [although] it doesn't look like any of the buildings around it except in abstract terms. This part of Central London [is characterised] by light-coloured Portland stone or brick work but at night it's the centre of entertainment. This hotel reflects the personality of the quintessential English man – polite, well-mannered, understated – but really, underneath, there's something a little bit deviant, a little bit eccentric. Hence, this hotel has a daytime face and a nighttime face. The [former] is very white and understated and you can't see through but at night the lights come on and the personality changes to something very flamboyant and exotic. The other contextual reference is that this is the area of theatres and cinemas so we hung a glass veil across the front [with] curves printed onto it – very much like a theatre curtain.
The award-winning W London – Leicester Square has become a landmark in Central London
The facade evokes the area's cinematic heritage at night
Hotels constantly have to renovate and refurbish. Inevitably, there's quite a lot of waste. How do you see sustainability playing a part in the industry?
[The] hotel, by [its] nature, is an inherently energy-hungry activity. Most people are going to fly there. The energy you use flying from New York to London makes the energy use of this hotel a pathetic amount – the innovations in LED lighting means you're using a tiny amount of lighting to get this effect. The glass skin design with the white frit painted with the curtain effect acts as a brise-soleil. But really, it's the way hotels are used [that is not sustainable]. There's this hotel in London [that] recently put a water bottling plant in the basement. They filter the water, put these beautifully designed glass bottles in your minibar and you can ask for more if you want – it's free. That means they're not exporting 20,000 bottles of water a week from France. It's these things where the energy's going. If you want to save energy, people shouldn't travel. (Laughs)
Abstract tinted smoke motifs floats though the Playboy Club in London