ELIZABETH LOWREY, PRINCIPAL AND DIRECTOR OF INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE, ELKUS MANFREDI ARCHITECTS
Elkus Manfredi Architects’ Principal, Elizabeth Lowrey, talks in-depth to Can Faik about the amazing projects the studio has completed around the world since its founding 29 years ago…
Elizabeth Lowrey is a Principal and the Director of Interior Architecture at Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston. She has been responsible for the firm’s award-winning interior design studio since the firm was founded in 1988. Boutique Design magazine identifies Elizabeth as a ‘maverick’ and ‘silo buster’ for her unique approach to design that bridges disciplines, cultures, and aesthetics. She is widely recognised as a pioneer in the design of branded workplace environments, and works in hospitality, education, residential, research, and institutional interiors.
Tell me about your role at Elkus Manfredi
I was the first employee hired after Howard Elkus and David Manfredi founded Elkus Manfredi in 1988. My role was to develop and oversee the firm’s interior design practice. In 1996 I became Director of Interior Architecture, and in 2002 I became a Principal involved in all aspects of running the firm.
What five words would you use to describe Elkus Manfredi?
Curious, smart, responsive, and genuine. I don’t have a single word for the fifth, but a very high EQ – emotional intelligence quotient – is definitely a big part of Elkus Manfredi’s DNA.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
I spent hours as a child sketching fantasy hotels, and for my senior thesis when I was studying architecture and interior design at college, I designed a prototypical spa for the travelling female executive within a five-star urban hotel complex. This was 1982, and the idea was almost revolutionary at the time. The first real hotel I worked on was an executive hotel on the Charles River in Boston.
What do you love about being a designer?
I can’t think of many jobs where you’re able to sit with industry leaders from all types of professions and hear their business strategies, their aspirations, their visions for the future of their field. I am constantly learning, and love exploring how architecture and space can help communicate and further an identity, a strategy, a set of values, or a mission.
How do you inspire your team?
Hopefully by example! I find inspiration everywhere – when I’m travelling, in personal interactions, at exhibitions, or just walking down the street. I take pictures of everything – people, buildings, rooms, furniture, fashion. On the airplane ride home after a trip, I’ll have a thousand pictures, and I’ll think through all the projects we’re working on and start sending clients and team members images and tidbits. At Elkus Manfredi, we don’t use images from the internet as this can produce ubiquitous designs. Everything must come from our own experiences. So we encourage our people to get out into the world. They come back with observations and fresh ideas that they share at informal roundtables. We inspire eachother that way.
Have you noticed any particular recent trends in hotel design?
If there is a current trend, it is in the idea of ‘value added.’ A hotel can no longer just be a place where you spend the night. It has to entertain, to educate, to feed, to comfort, to welcome, to inspire. Today’s hotels need to operate in multiple dimensions. They also need to be transformable, with spaces that can move fluidly and seamlessly from social space to we-work space to event space.
Howard Elkus passed away unexpectedly in April. What does his passing mean to you and to the firm?
This is something very personal and heartfelt for me. Howard hired me. He was a great mentor and an unbelievable friend. He showed us as a firm what it means to be a collaborator. He supported all of us, and he encouraged us to live life with our eyes wide open – to see, to experience, to listen. I miss him very much, and will miss him every day I work here. But Howard was also an amazing planner. He left the firm in such a great place. We can proceed, thanks to his vision, excitement, and passion. Even those people who will come to work here and never meet him will come to know him through the culture and legacy he’s left us.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Elkus Manfredi stand out from the rest?
I think that’s for our clients to answer. What I hope they would say is that they appreciate our commitment to their success. That means not only the success of the specific hotel, but also the success of the brand, the success of the developer and the operator, and ultimately the satisfaction and enjoyment of the hotel guests. I like to think we’re in business because we’re able to understand the viewpoints and needs of all of the stakeholders in a project.
You say that you’re both a design partner and a business partner with your clients. Explain.
What I mean is that we understand not only design, but also the development business, the hotel business, and the story-telling needed to create an experience for the user of the space. In addition to thinking like the designers we are, we are able to think like developers, hotel operators, hotel guests. Clients come to us for two reasons. The first is to help them create a master plan, a building, or a space that inspires. The second is to solve a business problem. We need to address both these reasons – to come up with creative ideas that deliver on the client’s vision and also meet the budget and schedule parameters of the business side of the project.
Elkus Manfredi has made the conscious decision to serve global clients from one central headquarters in Boston, which differs from other top firms of your size. Pros and cons?
I’m not sure there are any cons, or disadvantages, but I know that there are many advantages. Elkus Manfredi is an agile, highly collaborative firm. People from interior design work with people from architecture who work with people from urban planning. Ideas flow across groups and departments, and with that flow comes inspiration.
Being based in the United States, which hotels are you currently working on around the world?
Elkus Manfredi is currently designing a new convention hotel in Boston’s Seaport District, which is a booming centre of innovation for the world! We are in the early design stages for a new resort in South Korea, and the firm’s design for a hotel tower in Turkey is currently under construction.
How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
Guest-centred. We ask ourselves what do we want the guest to experience, to feel, in that space? What story do we want to tell? And we create a space that evokes that desired feeling for the guest. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we understand and consider the business stakeholders’ needs, all of which come into play in every project we design.
What does design mean to you?
Design is creative problem-solving, marrying the many aspects of a client’s brief with design that brings a story to life.
What do you want in a hotel room?
What I really want is to feel welcomed. I want to feel healthy and comfortable and protected and connected. Like somebody’s taking care of me.
What has been your favourite project to date?
It’s always the project I’m currently working on.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
I think we’re heading into a future of open innovation and collaboration by bringing in specialists from all fields and making them part of the design process. It’s something I’m very excited about. At Elkus Manfredi, we’re already very good at inviting the right people to the table to round out our design teams. By that I mean the right artist or the right lighting designer or the right technology guru. It’s a little bit daunting; we’ll have to learn new skills and new design languages. But that’s the adventure!
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
The Corinthia Hotel in London, the Dolder Grand in Zurich, and the Plaza in New York. All three have designs that deliver great service and create lasting memories.