JULIaN CRoss, PRINCIPaL, Woods bagot
SPACE’s Can Faik speaks to Julian Cross, Principal and European Design Lead for world-renowned design firm, Woods Bagot…
Woods Bagot is the global architecture and design practice embracing the era of experience. With studios in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Middle East and North America, they pool their collective understanding of international best practice and design trends to develop individual narratives and deliver a truly human-centric guest experience.
Tell me about your role at Woods Bagot
I am a Principal at Woods Bagot and lead design for the European Studio, responsible for the quality and continuity of all design work produced in the region.
How long have you been involved in hotel design and architecture?
I first became involved in the design of a hotel 15 years ago, and in 2009 I started to lead the design of the Bvlgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, I led this for the developer all the way from early design to completion and this is where I really learnt what it entails to design and construct a ‘signature’ hotel.
What five words would you use to describe Woods Bagot?
Creative, Collaborative, Authentic, Intelligent, Global.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Woods Bagot stand out from the rest?
The key thing that makes us stand out from most is our global knowledge and reach, we have studios in 15 locations around the world, this means we are at the leading edge of global trends which we couple with local market knowledge. This allows us to give our clients an exceptional service.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Woods Bagot felt the effects?
We are seeing a lot of activity in the hotel sector unlike other sectors which have been dramatically unsettled by Brexit. In London it seems to be a great time to be starting hotel projects, great cities will remain a strong draw and the weak position of the pound is making it attractive to foreign investors.
Being based in London, which hotels are you currently working on?
We are working on a number of significant hotel projects from the London studio. The Londoner in Leicester Square for Edwardian Group is well progressed in construction and will become a key London hotel when it opens its doors to the public in 2020. We are also working on an extraordinary project in Antognolla in Umbria, Italy for VIYM. It involves the conversion of a renaissance castle into a luxury hotel as well as the creation of new residences, a major spa and banqueting facility. We are also working on an exciting proposal in Covent Garden for a very cool German hotel operator, the project will be their first venture into London.
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
Listen and give clients their unique product, don’t stand still but evolve with the times. We are not a founder firm, Woods and Bagot are long gone, we don’t have a house style but rely on group knowledge and a democracy of ideas to give the best results.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
Hotels are now all about the location rather than the just the brand, it used to be the other way around. The key to successful design now is balancing both factors.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
The public spaces in a hotel are critical, the initial impression people get, how they orientate themselves, how people find ‘their’ place within the public areas of a hotel are all fundamental to how people judge a hotel’s success. Hotels have become a key part of the borrowed public space within cities, places of respite that are synonymous with the city they are in.
How would you define your ‘Hotel Style’?
Of its time and place but seated in research and respectful of and learning from heritage and location.
What does design mean to you?
Design is a process, it is driven equally by pragmatics and narratives, it is beginning to end, from concept through construction to completion.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
The Middle East for us is still a buoyant market across a broad spectrum of product types. London also seems to continue to grow, somehow more so in times of uncertainty.
What has been your favourite project to date?
I like to embrace all projects with a passion, I tend to fall in love with each one for different reasons and they are all favourites for a while!
What’s next for you?
We are looking at a number of exciting resort opportunities within Europe. I can’t talk about them at the moment but I am really excited about the prospect of working on them and developing responses to their unique and veryspeciallocations.
What would be your dream hotel project?
I would love to work on a marquee hotel in any major European capital city, a future ‘Grande Dame’, something that really captures the essence of the hotels of old.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I am lucky to have travelled a lot during my career but haven’t been to the West Coast of the US for some time, I spent my childhood in California and would love to go back.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
The learning from the hospitality sector is now being applied to many other sectors, from workplace to multi-family residential, I see these mixed use projects becoming the glue that makes places and cities, our knowledge learnt in hotels will serve us well across a more blurred offer going forward.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
I have stayed in many very good and many many not so good places over the years but what really makes a great hotel is the staff, often more modest hotels that have been running for a long time and who know exactly what they are doing can be the most rewarding to stay in. My top three would include The Bvlgari Hotel in Milan – one of the best across all categories, building, place, people and staff. Dormy House in Etretat, Normandy – my favourite 3 star and Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm for capturing the essence of Belle Epoque Stockholm. In each case it is about a strong connection to the specifics of the place, this is what travel and hotels are all about for me.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I am very lucky in this sense in that I truly love my work. That said the expectations in our industry are very high and this can impact our home/work life balance in a negative way. It helps that my wife is also an architect and occupies a similar role in another firm, we both understand the stresses and strains of our profession and can bounce ideas off each other!