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Interview with WATG in Hospitality Design


Over the course of the last six decades, WATG has become the world’s leading design consultant for the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries. Having worked in 160 countries and territories across six continents, WATG has designed more great hotels and resorts than any other firm on the planet. Many of WATG’s projects have become international landmarks, renowned not only for their design and sense of place but also for their bottom-line success.

Translating the goals of clients into desired results is a hallmark of Don Goo’s leadership as a past partner, former president and current senior advisor for WATG. In his other role as University of Hawaii Architectural Practicum Director, he emphasizes leadership development, creative and independent thinking, and the influence of Asia-Pacific cultures on decision-making and design of the built environment.

Background –

What are the core values which have guided WATG’s development and continue to this day?

WATG has a legacy of environmentally sensitive planning, architecture and design.  A hallmark of WATG is its sensitivity to the influences of the local culture, the natural resources, the people and the spirit of the place.  The firm designs destinations that lift the spirit.

What were some key milestones in WATG’s growth, and expansion into a world-class design firm?

The firm made an important early decision to specialize, and its first project was the renovation of the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu in 1945.  After that, the key was to recognize that it would be important to “go where the action is.”  It started with following the hospitality industry’s expansion into the Pacific Islands and Asia.  It was also the basis for competing for a major hotel (The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niquel in California), winning the competition and opening an office in Newport Beach.  This then guided the decision to open an office in London to be part of the European hospitality community.  Other new offices and services continued to implement this guiding principle.

Case Studies –

What are 3-5 projects that WATG showcases which demonstrates their world-class portfolio?  Comments on 1-2 current projects in sustainable design

Bardessono, Yountville, CA – The challenge was to design a unique and intimate 62-room boutique luxury lodge and spa on a 4.9-acre site in the heart of Napa Valley. The intent was to create a cutting-edge green design with an atmosphere of warmth and community inspired by the architecture and wine culture of Napa Valley. The project was designed to reflect a blending of the Valley’s agrarian character, a refined environment associated with the region’s wines, and an indoor/outdoor atmosphere.

Sustainable building materials, energy management systems, and solar and geothermal energy were incorporated into the design. Every room has its own courtyard to allow for absolute privacy. The project was recently awarded LEED Platinum certification, and is only the second hotel in the country to hold this sustainability honor.

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – The design challenge was to create the finest example of a grand civic building in the United Arab Emirates that would be both culturally sensitive to the styles and traditions of Abu Dhabi, and a conference hotel of the highest quality ever built. Built in the style of a majestic palace rising from the sand, an elaborate and luxurious design combines a conference centre, guest palace and two luxury Kempinksi hotel wings.

Modern techniques of etching and casting allowed traditional patterns to become an integral component of the facade design. Traditional materials and motifs were blended with the latest technology. The building’s exterior of marble, granite and stone includes self-cleaning coated glass spandrels and balcony fronts.

Sacred Heart Medical Center, Springfield, Oregon – The design challenge was to create a new medical facility with a healing environment for patients and their families that would reflect the comfort of a hospitality project while supporting clinical, medical office, commercial, residential and elder care facilities. The design team combined hospitality with a northwest style to create a warm, comfortable and healing environment while maintaining the natural amenities of the site.

The arrival was designed to reflect that of a resort destination, and the lobby has the look and feel of a lodge. Hospital rooms and public areas provide panoramic views of the river and hills. Open space and pedestrian bike paths connect residents, employees and visitors to the community.

Four Seasons Westlake Village, California – The design challenge was to create a world-class facility that would address every aspect of health and wellbeing under one roof. The goal was to develop a unique destination designed exclusively for the purpose of teaching people how to live better, healthier lives. A six-story structure was designed in a contemporary yet timeless style utilizing brick, stone and glass.

A five-star hotel, health and wellness center, full-service spa, and television studio are surrounded by gardens and water features. The spacious rooms and suites were designed in a residential nature with alluring decor, sumptuous fabrics and elegant lighting fixtures

Singita Grumeti Reserves Sasakwa Lodge, Tanzania – The design challenge was to create a unique and exclusive sustainable destination consisting of luxury safari lodges in various locations throughout the private Grumeti Game Reserve. A hilltop lodge was designed in the style of an East African colonial manor home with awe-inspiring views over the Serengeti plains.

The resort was positioned on the renowned migratory route traversed annually by more than a million wildebeest and home to large herds of resident game that allow for incredible game viewing all year round. The lodge can accommodate up to 30 people, with one- to four-bed suites arranged across the seven cottages, each with its own infinity pool and private garden.

Q: Could you provide some comments about WATG’s interest/expertise in sustainable hospital/health system (medical tourism) and spa/iconic projects (health tourism)? With a view towards the future

WATG’s design for the Hyatt Regency in Coolum, Australia, created a special healthcare environment for healthy living.  It provided health maintenance at a resort with the benefit of the Medical Association’s approval.  The resort experience started with the individuals leaving their car at check in and then transported to their unit by golf cart.  Walking and bicycling to and from activities became an important part of the wellness program.  The visit included medical examinations, exercise and nutritional education.  See above for additional examples.

WATG also has been responsible for the design of several other well-known, award-winning destination spas, including the Golden Door Spa at the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Arizona; the Spa at Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, California; and the Spa at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

Future Forward

Q: Where, in WATG’s views does it see sustainable, green design headed (several key trends)?

China has set a 15% renewable energy target by 2020.  The magnitude of this goal is incredible in a country as large as China. Not only are our clients interested in green design, but so are the local government authorities, who are now mandating that projects incorporate sustainable concepts.

Q: Could you comment on WATG’s legacy in Hawaii?

The highest quality architecture that attracts guests continues to be created by the fundamental concepts of respect for the culture and the environment.  The changes are influenced by new standards for the traveler and by new technology.  Redevelopment of resorts that have excellent locations will be good for sustainable tourism and for green design.

Tourism provides the visitor a healthy physical and mental change from his or her normal activities.

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