A successful hospitality project guides guests into discovering something new, according to Reda Amalou and Stéphanie Ledoux. The founders of Paris-based architecture firm AW2 recently unveiled—within weeks of each other—two beachfront hotel projects in tropical settings. At the remote wilderness retreat Kasiiya Papagayo in Costa Rica, all structures are custom timber-and-canvas “luxury tents” raised off the ground in order to protect the tropical jungle. In sharp contrast, injecting a landscape program into an urban site was essential to the design of five-star resort Silversands Grenada on the Caribbean island of Grenada in the West Indies. Amalou and Ledoux sat down with Interior Design to share more on these tropical projects, the changing hospitality market, and the pioneering architect that continues to have a tremendous influence on their work.
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Interior Design: What was your overall design goal for Kasiiya Papagayo?
Reda Amalou: All of our projects—no matter the country or location—are based on a very high sensitivity to context and to the place where we are building into. When we saw the site for Kasiiya Papagayo, we saw that it was very beautiful, with a strong character of its own, yet very sensitive. So, we thought, how can we make this an even stronger experience for the guests? By fitting our design into the environment in the most sensitive way. To do this we looked at not only context, topography, and climate, but also at construction resources and what could be sourced locally. For example, our bespoke furniture was manufactured nearby out of local Guanacaste wood.
ID: What made you decide on tents, an untraditional structure for a luxury hospitality project?
Stéphanie Ledoux: In such a pristine site, the choice seemed obvious. The goal was to leave no trace behind if the hotel was to be removed. With help from a tent specialist, we designed a tent that has a pine frame and a deck of Brazilian red cherry. The roof has five layers—four of cotton canvas and one of PVC for protection from the rain.
ID: How does your design of Silversands Grenada stand out?
SL: Silversands Grenada is a totally different project, with a completely different context. Grenada is a beautiful volcanic island and we saw that the beachfront site we had to work with was surrounded by buildings and houses and quite close to Saint George’s, the island’s capital. We worked within the idea of contemporary tropical architecture and designed the master plan, the architecture, and interiors, and some furniture. The resort consists of 44 rooms and suites and nine villas, with wood and stone as the main materials. In order to have the outdoor and indoor elements work together, we played a lot with the landscape. Unlike with Kasiiya, we had to create our own outdoor environment from scratch.
RA: It's actually really interesting to compare the two projects. They're both generally in the same area, with the same type of climate, but we took totally different approaches with the design for each. It was a bit of a schizophrenic exercise actually, but fun.
ID: How do you think the hospitality industry has changed over the last 10 years?
RA: It’s less the industry and more the traveler that has changed. The idea that we need a home away from home is gone. Today’s traveler—who is more knowledgeable—wants to be away and wants to experience that away feeling as strongly as possible. Preventing travelers from being over stressed is no longer the primary focus for hoteliers. We are now in a time of experiencing your environment, getting into contact with different cultures and cuisines, and exploring different ways of doing things. The industry has responded, making traveling an experience rather than just a service. The guest experience is now at the center of every project we do.
ID: What's upcoming for you?
RA: We're working on a Six Senses ski resort in Switzerland, the Six Senses Crans-Montana. It will be a ski-in, ski-out property. We're also busy with a chain of hotels in Asia—an affordable, yet luxurious, urban-type of chain—and a very high-end residential project in Rome.
ID: How do you approach a hospitality project?
RA: The idea is that we design everything, from master plan to furniture and even accessories. Instead of drawing in different things, the whole project is based on one concept. When furniture and architecture is dedicated to a place, the project has a very strong identity.
ID: What do your homes look like?
SL: We both live with our families in apartments in Paris, where space is always a constraint. So, what we do is use the available space as much as we can. Actually, our apartments are similar—the layouts are quite pure, serene spaces with a lot of white. There are also a lot of open views towards whatever we have available as a view.
RA: We’re always traveling and spending a lot of time on airplanes, in airport lounges, and in hotels. Home has to have that serenity.
ID: Do you have something in your home that has significant value to you?
SL: The D153.1 armchair by Gio Ponti, whom I really admire. It's a new edition from Molteni & C and it's right in the middle of my living room. It serves as a constant reminder to me that we need to achieve and to look for quality each time we design something.
ID: Can you name a historical figure in the industry you particularly admire?
RA: Geoffrey Bawa. He’s a Sri Lankan architect and considered the father of modern tropical architecture. He designed quite a few hotels in Sri Lanka, as well as a few places in Bali and India. His work is all about the local environment and the natural environment—so each of his designs is amazingly in tune with nature and its location. He has had an immense inspiration on our work.
ID: Where do you go to escape?
RA: A Greek island for the blue skies, the blue sea, the arid climate, and the food—that’s luxury to me.
SL: The desert, for peace and emptiness. I go to Tassili n'Ajjer, a national park in southeast Algeria’s Sahara desert. The area has remnants of prehistoric human life going back thousands of years.
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