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Designing China’s Hotels: Ian Carr

Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) leads the design of hotel interiors with a 1,000 project-strong portfolio, the largest proportion of which comes out of China. Here, the firm’s CEO Ian Carr talks about designing for the Chinese market.

Designing China’s Hotels: Ian Carr


October 31st, 2012

Just how important is the China hospitality market for HBA?

The growth in the past 20 years and clear-cut fiscal achievements highlight HBA’s clear straddling of the hospitality design market in China. The Chinese market accounted for 71.1% of total revenue in FY2011 and 2012’s projected growth is even higher. HBA’s involvement in China continues with the award of projects for Ritz-Carlton Haikou as well as the much-anticipated Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, among many others. Today, HBA is taking on increasingly more projects in China’s tertiary cities, with more than half our contracts on the Chinese mainland as projects extend across Asia.

Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou

Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou

Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou

Have client and industry attitudes changed since HBA first entered the Chinese market?

The process of interior design and creative concepts have evolved as our clients, hotel brands, and the manner in which people travel have changed. Travel has become easier than ever, and we are able to reach corners of the globe which seemed previously untouchable.

Hotel operators are creating bespoke brands catered to discerning leisure and business travellers in every part of the globe and as designers we must stay ahead of the curve in terms of hospitality trends and experiential expectations.

As designers, it is important to study these locales and capture the essence of the place. Ideally, we aim to surprise and enliven hospitality experiences for the discerning traveller while creating an authentic experience that resonates with the hotel brand. Thus, the evolution of the design concept has always been about lifestyle, and staying up to date with those lifestyle trends and choices. As designers we must be anthropologists, studying cultural norms, travel preferences and behaviours of our hotel patrons. Today it is more important than ever to create experiences in locations that are authentic, comfortable and in tune with modern sensibilities.

The Westin Ningbo

The Westin Ningbo

The Westin Ningbo

So it’s vital to consider ‘a sense of place’. Do you find this to be an important design consideration in your China projects?

Timeless design should be sensitive to location. Creating a sense of place in design that is alive with the spirit of the local surrounding, and which dives into the cultural and architectural history, is very important. Creating a space that can never be replicated elsewhere and that can only exist in that unique environment is the formula for making everlasting landmark properties.

HBA has worked on many of the world’s finest nameplates in over 50 countries. Some examples of recent timeless projects include the Four Seasons Hotel Macao, China World Summit Wing Shangri-la and Marina Bay Sands. Not only are all these properties iconic in their own right, but they each required a deep dive into local culture, history and design. The research into location developed the foundation for the design concept, with HBA working in tandem with the architectural team to create properties that are timeless and iconic.

Four Seasons Macao

Four Seasons Hotel Macao

What differentiates HBA from other firms that design hotel interiors?

The industry is becoming more and more sophisticated. Clients are well attuned to cultural shifts, building challenges and the forecast of travellers preferences and trends. Simply providing one type of service is not enough. The design field is becoming all encompassing – you can’t just be a hospitality designer, but you have to be a designer for all circles of life. Design is about living spaces. Furthermore, as designers we must be attuned to what is happening in the world, both culturally and aspirationally. Understanding how people want to live and finding ways to improve upon that are some of the challenges we face moving forward.

At the end of the day we aim to create design that adds value and benefits clients and the end user. Recent innovations by the firm have included HBA identifying a creative void in the market for budget conscious owners and developers seeking stylish, cutting-edge design and local accessibility.

A specialised division called ’Studio’ caters to this fast growing segment. HBA has also leveraged its 45 years of experience in creating lighting projects through a new division called ’Illuminate’, an independent lighting consultancy that provides services beyond HBA projects by offering lighting solutions.

In addition, we launched ’Canvas’, a comprehensive art consultancy focused on enhancing exceptional hospitality interior design with well-conceived and fully realised art collections.

Shangri La

Shangri La

China World Summit Wing Shangri-la

What are the unique aspects about working on hospitality projects in China?

The design of hotels in China come from two schools of thought: first, there is the developer who is looking to enter the luxury hotel market and who has an understanding of design, but whose knowledge and design ideas are based solely on what they know or have been exposed to in the last 20 years. The second type is the more avant-garde developer who is willing to explore new ideas in a contemporary fashion, however, not one that is simply imported from the West. They request that designers immerse themselves in the local culture and surroundings so the final product takes on a life of its own, in a contemporary Chinese way.

Fairmont Peace Hotel

Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai

Presently, China has a bustling art and design scene. Many of these artists and designers have gained a considerable international following, and it is here that designers can begin to discover the more modern cultural aspects of China. If you look at the current global art scene, Chinese artists make up 30% of the global market whereas that figure was a mere 8% just 20 years ago.

What’s important to take from this is that both schools of thought have helped the luxury hotel market in China achieve international recognition. Chinese hoteliers have come to expect a specific level of sophistication and detail in their properties, making them easily identifiable based on their design and not inundating guests with traditional Chinese elements. In the coming years, as average Chinese citizens continue to become more exposed, they will want to further explore beyond their safe zone and this trend too will continue in the luxury hotel market. So it will remain important for new and old hoteliers to stay ahead of the competition.


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