For Alex Gong, who received the Rising Star in Hospitality Design award at this year's virtual HiP People awards ceremony, a fascination with Japanese design as a teenager solidified the roots of her burgeoning career. "Design was not that developed in China back then; I was really impressed when I first saw Japanese design," Gong recalls, noting that this discovery led her to explore the intersection of design and culture.
Gong then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the New York School of Interior Design, which she puts to use daily as a designer at Rockwell Group. Her recent projects at the firm include: Moxy East Village (Cathédrale restaurant, LittleSister lounge, and other amenities, and guest rooms); Fairmont San Jose hotel lobby bar, public areas and guest rooms; and Citizens at Manhattan West. "As most of the projects I do are hospitality, for me, it is instrumental to understand what an owner and operator are looking for. The designer's role is to solve problems and help visualize the business, so a good project is always a balance between the collaboration of design and business," says Gong.
Culture, art, and philosophy form the cornerstone of Gong's design progress, enabling her to address the specificities of each site's function and history to create a dynamic experience for its users. Looking ahead to the evolution of hospitality design, Gong says that while indoor dining remains a challenge given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, designers have the unique ability to restore a sense of trust and safety in such spaces through careful planning. Currently, Gong is working on creating an all-day dining space for a hotel, which enables the operator to have a full-service buffet counter instead of the usual grab-and-go model to prevent direct contact with food. "Design gives me the opportunity to discover and learn new things all the time: a new material, a new artist, a new craftsmanship," she adds. "It is an interesting—at times painful—process to put things together and have it realized one day."