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Outta This World

If your design doesn’t leave viewers spellbound, you’re not doing it right. Looking at the creations making headlines in cutting-edge niches, it’s clear that the hospitality industry needs to get ready for a serious round of can-you-top-this. Sure, the trend toward handsome residential public spaces, guestrooms and restaurants is here to stay, but guests have a lot of moods—including some that call for environments that challenge expectations rather than simply exceed standards.

Get out your vision board and take a look at what Hangzhou Neobio Family Park, a multivenue wonderland in a mall atrium, and Spaces on Wheels, a vision for a world where driverless cars redefine mobile life, can show designers about building OMG! moments that last. From the entry to the exit, these concepts have vital lessons about the purpose, layout, proportion, tonality and function of the hotel and restaurant spaces of tomorrow.

Hangzhou Neobio Family Park | Photo: Shao Feng

Making a humanscale space out of a massive volume may seem like an incredible undertaking, but for Xiang Li, chief designer, X+LIVING, it’s just another day in the office. She sculpted over 86,000 sq. ft. of two- and three-story atrium space within a giant shopping mall into a series of escapist venues where adults and kids can play.

“The solution started with compartmentalizing the overall space.  First, we arranged specific functional points based on the site conditions. Then, we determined the ceiling height for each of the areas, taking into consideration the age group of customers who would be using them,” she says.

Sims City

With purposes as diverse as a library, private event spaces, a bakery classroom (where families can bake together), a Sims City for children to explore, a miniature house Amusement Area and eating spaces, each area required an individual solution. For the library, arching shelves cut through the volume. In the Amusement Area Li and her team conceptualized the house as “blocks” on the floorplan. Sims City goes off the grid. “Rather than a conventional street layout, we scattered all these small experience spaces in the virtual city so to encourage children to explore the whole area to find what they like,” she says.

Sims City

If that sounds like a blueprint for a successful lobby design, that’s because it is. Piquing guests’ curiosity is a great tool for making sure that no square foot goes unused. While it might sound like that can only play out in widescreen, Spaces on Wheels proves that working it out on the other extreme of the size spectrum is also doable.


For their playful vision of mobile, working, medical, leisure, foodservice, retail and yes, hotel space, the teams at SPACE10 (IKEA’s future living lab) and foam Studio envision a mini-module approach, breaking the necessary elements down to 30-in. squares so that a four-module-wide design can still fit on the average road. “Our primary concern was to build a functional and practical base that could serve as a unified standard,” says foam partner Matthias Winckelmann. “The technical requirements of the base have yet to be defined, as Spaces on Wheels is purely hypothetical. Our process can be understood more as a form of speculative design than a full-fledged engineering approach.”

Hangzhou Neobio Family Park

But the thought pattern is actionable today: The mechanics of independent pieces serve as an object lesson for squeezing all the required services into even the tightest footprint. Transferring that thinking to a hotel lobby, each piece, from check-in desk to coworking area to breakfast service, could be thought of as a “module” and used or removed—and/or repurposed-as-required without affecting the overall scheme.

Scale isn’t the only ingredient that makes these two spaces bellwethers. Millennial pink, love it or hate it, launched a generation of candy box tones. What’s new here is that those chalky pastels become a layered design statement. Contrasts in textures, bold shapes and carefully considered light and shadow bring an adult drama to an innocent palette. For example, the mushroom-cap-like elements in the Family Park’s eating area dominate the three-story space, giving them built-in gravitas.

“In the library, we took inspiration from the relationship between rainbow and clouds, and abstracted the composition so that structures designed in this area can serve as bookshelves and at the same time allow kids to enjoy climbing and going through holes,” says Li. foam Studio takes a back-to-basics approach: The mostly pale vehicle bodies are free of adornment, relying on cleverly curved elements to give them a grown-up cool.

Yes, the inner child is alive, well and not always living inside an outer child: Another thing these projects share is the love of a sense of wonder. Gorgeous finishes, head-turning focal points and fantastic narratives from virtually every chronological or cultural reference point imaginable are business as usual. But making guests ask themselves “why?” and “how?” is one frontier that’s still ripe for visual exploration.

For example, Li set up a gray-and-yellow room as a bakery classroom for families. “We adopted a palette of yellow that references the color of cheese. Little robots are lined up to form a background (and later, storage for some of the cooking equipment), endowing the space with a sense of storytelling,” she says. “All of these elements are helpful in motivating  children to participate in DIY baking.”

foam Studio’s mobilizing of the modern lifestyle invites the same kind of curiosity, albeit at a far more high-tech level. How would it feel to ride in a bubble car? Play games in VR while zipping down a highway? While you won’t find out before you respond to your next RFP, that kind of inquisitiveness is always on point. Have fun!


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