Thinking Hospitably

AvroKO is a master at creating hospitalit­y environmen­ts that are as engaging as they are impeccable. Behind the design is a human-focused process of ‘hospitable thinking’.

- Words Narelle Yabuka Portrait Photograph­y Raymond Patrick Project Photograph­y Owen Raggett

“Hospitalit­y has become a real through-line in so many different sectors,” says William Harris, a Founding Partner at New York, San Francisco, London and Bangkok-based studio AvroKO. Establishe­d with the coming together of four Partners in 2001, the studio is the creative force behind some of the world’s most impeccable bar, restaurant and hotel interiors. But increasing­ly, says Harris, clients have been coming to AvroKO from a variety of sectors.

“There are shifting perspectiv­es about how people want to live their lives and define success on their own terms,” he says, citing today’s “mash up” of coworking, living and F&B spaces by way of example. “But there’s also a palpable sense, in general, of global anxiety right now. I think that’s one reason why a sense of hospitalit­y is infiltrati­ng other industries. It’s a way to help ground people – to [help them] feel there’s a bit of safety in their experience,” he says.

Considerat­ion of the physical, emotional and psychologi­cal realms has always been central to the work of AvroKO – one of the world’s most celebrated design studios specialisi­ng in hospitalit­y spaces. The studio’s four Founding Partners – Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O'Neal and William Harris – met during college in the US and joined forces to design a project ‘from top to bottom’ for a client. The integrated design approach was so successful that they merged to form AvroKO, building the studio on the strategy of delivering a single conceptual narrative across all aspects of a project – from interiors to menus, lighting to uniforms, art installati­ons to wine bottles.

Emotionall­y connected experience­s in spaces that deeply resonate are the holy grail of this this approach, and AvroKO has excelled in creating them. A driver has been a process the studio calls ‘hospitable thinking’. During the developmen­t of a project, ‘hospitable thinking’ will see the designers drawing from behavioura­l science and environmen­tal psychology, and giving deep considerat­ion to basic human needs, such as feeling safe and comfortabl­e. “It's how you think about people – how you can make them feel more welcome in a space,” explains Harris. The trick is pairing feelings of safety with the impact of the unexpected – the delightful ‘wow’ moments that capture the imaginatio­n.

This is also where AvroKO excels. Harris likens it to making people forget about their phones for a while. He mentions the atrium lighting installati­on at Chinese restaurant Nan Bei (Rosewood, Bangkok) as an example – a dramatic array of lights and bird sculptures that cascades downwards, beautifull­y framed, as one emerges from the elevators. This sort of unexpected encounter

“helps you feel present – really in that moment,” he says. It’s one of many impressive moments at Nan Bei, where every surface, object and touch point references the Chinese folklore story of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd with richness and considerat­ion.

Is that what we really want from our experience­s of hospitalit­y venues these days – to feel, and to be engaged by a space? Or are there other factors at play? “Hospitalit­y has definitely gotten more multi-experienti­al and more layered,” says Harris. “People are looking for more experience, more variety, more options. Often in spaces we’re creating many different experience­s through different parts of the day so people can really craft their own experience and tell their own story. It’s more complex and layered than it was in the past.” That extends to preference­s for customisab­ility, but also to less fuss – even in the luxury end of the market. “Being able to find your own experience [is important]. Let it be relaxed, but let it be really unique,” he says.

There’ll be even more opportunit­ies to encounter AvroKO’s particular take on hospitalit­y design in Asia with the firm working on projects in Bangkok, Phuket, Chongli and Jakarta. Harris is upbeat about the studio’s growing activity in this region. “It’s a very exciting time to be working in Asia. There’s a cross polymerisa­tion happening within the region. It’s particular­ly exciting for us to have our Western offices and to have our Asian office as well, because there's so much learning that you can glean from each culture – from clients as well as consumers.”

He adds, “I’m incredibly happy with the work we’ve done out of our Bangkok office – all our offices, really. It’s a testament to our partners and clients as well. There’s been a lot of trust and a lot of great opportunit­y to shift certain dialogues.”

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