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Five Minutes with 2016 Gold Key Judge John McMullen

(May 2016) posted on Thu May 26, 2016

Highgate Hotels' senior vice president of construction dishes on what it takes to win a Gold Key award

By Leslie Silvey

click an image below to view slideshow

So what exactly makes for a winning design project in the eyes of a judge for this year’s Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design?

John McMullen, senior vice president of construction of Highgate Hotels, believes there is a special aura to a winning design that goes hand-in-hand with the designer’s understanding of the space, its purpose, the building’s history and the unique community that surrounds it.

Here are his thoughts on what propels a Gold Key submission to the top of the winners’ lists along with some recommended NYC gems to add to your BDNY itinerary:

What do you look for in a winning Gold Key design entry?

It’s hard to put a list together, so that when you add it up, it results in a winning design. There is so much more to it than just a check list. The great thing about architecture and design is that, when done well, the space shapes our experiences in a positive way.

There are many times when we choose to go back to have a meeting in a lobby, restaurant or lounge because it’s great space. It instantly feels right, almost on a visceral level. The interesting thing is when you go back and study the design and deconstruct it by peeling back the layers, only then can you appreciate the level of creativity that the designer put into it.

Are there any factors that might derail a project?

I think a project would run into trouble if it lacks a clear vision and falls back on the old “been there, done that” designs of the past.

What new hotels or restaurants do you think are absolute “must-sees” in NYC?

Vandal in the Bowery is super cool with the street art décor and 11-foot-tall break dancing Icy Grape bunny rabbit. I also like Natsumi Tapas, which is Japanese – Italian fusion cuisine. It’s a great place for sushi or tapas.

Do you have a favorite building in the Big Apple?

It’s so hard to pick. NYC has so many iconic landmark buildings, and within the last 10 years or so, there have been many new buildings designed by world famous architects that are just as noteworthy. That said, my favorite landmark building is a group of churches (St. Patrick’s Cathedral – 1888, St. John the Divine – 1892 and Trinity Church – 1846). The Neo Gothic Style is inspiring, and each building is full of rich history.

My favorite new building is 520 West 28th Street, designed by Zaha Hadid, which overlooks the High Line Park.

Entries for the Gold Key Award for Excellence in Hospitality Design are now being accepted through July 8; find more information on how to apply at:

They will be reviewed by the 2016 judging panel, which includes:

Edwin Hendriksen, senior vice president development & investments, North America, citizenM Hotels
Lori Horvath, senior vice president, Jones Lang LaSalle
John McMullen, senior vice president of construction, Highgate Hotels
Michael Medzigian, chairman and managing partner, Watermark Capital Partners, LLC
Dane Patunoff, director, development & construction, KHP Capital Partners
Jay Pecotte, senior director, project development, hotels & casinos - Americas, Hard Rock International
Thomas Prins, partner, Gemstone Hotels & Resorts
Larry Traxler, senior vice president, global design, Hilton Worldwide

The winners of this honors and the Designer of the Year will be revealed at the Gold Key gala, Monday, Nov. 14 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.



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