Here's how this Singaporean architecture firm designs for the world's luxury hotels brands

Brands like Raffles even get BLINK Design Group to design their overseas properties.

Even as hotel launches in Singapore are poised to slow down in the next three years, this does not stop BLINK Design Group, an architecture and design firm specialising in luxury hospitality properties, from expanding as it opens itself to luxury hotel brands across Asia.

Also operating in Bangkok and Shanghai, the firm has been behind the look of hotels and resorts across the region, notably Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, Raffles Hotels and Resorts' first property in the country. It is set to open Andaz Xiamen in China and The Regent Phu Quoc in Vietnam for next year, and has recently clinched its debut project in Australia to design Wirra Wirra’s winery and resort.

In an interview with Singapore Business Review, Rengy John, managing partner of BLINK Design Group discusses about the processes for coming up with designs for luxury hotels and resorts, and on how it seeks to channel the “unique spirit” of their respective locations.

What are the current trends in the architecture sector in Singapore and Asia-Pacific? What design trends are on the rise for hospitality properties?
Designing for wellness is increasingly important, though I would not call this a trend as we think it’s here to stay. We’ve found this to be true not only in Singapore but across Asia and other locations where we’re building properties.
In Australia, for example, our founder and creative partner Clint Nagata and his team are building a winery and resort in McLaren Vale that will be the first luxury wellness resort in the region. It also happens to be our first project in Australia.

In such a hyperconnected world, consumers are seeking places of refuge where they can tune out and care for their mind and body. That’s certainly influencing how hospitality brands are conceiving their offerings and in turn, design and architecture strive to meet that demand.

Please tell us about BLINK's Singapore portfolio. Could you walk us through the design process behind them? How did you conceptualize the design?
Our Singapore portfolio includes the Conrad Centennial Singapore, for which BLINK completed the guestrooms renovation. Our design team, led by BLINK’s founder and creative partner Clint Nagata, approached the brief with the key consideration of creating a compelling destination for tourists and locals alike while taking into account the operational realities of the hotel business.

We've also worked with Singapore hospitality brands such as the Raffles, designing its first property in the Maldives: the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo.

What makes the properties you have designed to be distinctive and detail-oriented? What distinguishes BLINK's designs from other hotel and resort designs?
In designing hotels, resorts, and other developments we focus not only on the creative brief, but also on the ethos of the site. This means that if we are building a resort in the Maldives for example, we make certain that this is a resort that is designed uniquely for the Maldives, whether through its architecture or building design, or interior accents.

Every detail matters enormously. What we deliver in a property is a design that is not only a physical expression of the client and operator’s brief but also one that embodies the hotel or resort’s unique location.

How do you channel the "unique spirit" of your hotels' locations? For instance, what aspects of Raffles Maldives Meradhoo capitulate on its location? How about for your other projects?
Design always comes first for us at BLINK and part of that is having a deep understanding of the destination. Our architects and designers take the time to immerse themselves in the culture of a new project site so that they have authentic references to draw from.

At the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, for instance, our client’s brief was to blend both the spirit of the Maldives and the legacy of the Raffles brand. The Maldives is not a place to party, or to see and be seen — traditionally it is a retreat for discerning travellers who appreciate the calming nature of the island.

We made sure it was quietly luxurious, casual, yet still very elegant. Last year we completed the Capella Shanghai, which is situated on a historic site. We preserved its architectural heritage while transforming the property into a modern hotel that is transportive and romantic, with details such as glazed porcelain and earthenware urns, antique feather fans, that evoke a sense of place.

IMDA recently developed a roadmap for hotel enterprises to go digital. How has the increasing incorporation of technology in hospitality properties influenced your design?
Much of the incorporation of technology in hotels and resorts has to do with enhancing the guest experience and ensuring comfort and convenience every step of the way. We have always approached our design with the same perspective — only now we have to deal with things like artificial intelligence, robots, and virtual reality. Our objective then becomes making sure the experience remains seamless, and delivering a physical experience that is equally moving.

What strategies do you employ to attract projects in Singapore? Across Asia-Pacific?
Making connections and building relationships have been key to our project wins. Thankfully, we have built quite strong and extensive partnerships with brands and so we don’t have to fight to be seen each time. Hospitality groups that we’ve worked with in the past approach us precisely because they are familiar with the quality of our work and, I hope, enjoy working with us and our designers.

That said, we value the ability to choose which brands or companies we work with. To us it’s not about the quantity but the quality. Attracting more projects is not as important to us as attracting the right ones.

A DBS report revealed that Singapore has been seeing a slowdown in new hotel launches. Has this affected the firm in any way? How have you been able to compete?
While our firm is based in Singapore, we operate from two other offices in Bangkok and Shanghai, which opens us up to business all over Asia. I think it’s important not to keep all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

We love doing projects in Singapore but our experience in various locations has bolstered our business. Take 2020, for example - we are opening the Andaz Xiamen and the Regent Phu Quoc, both of which are located outside Singapore.

How do you see the architecture sector developing over the next three to five years? How would you see the designs of hospitality property evolve at the same time?
The rise of discerning consumers who possess ever-evolving ideas of luxury and comfort will play a part in how we design and build these next few years. The advancement of technology as well as the pursuit of wellness will be key drivers here, too.

Besides the projects in the pipeline, what are your future plans?
We’re very much looking forward to expanding our portfolio with projects in Australia, the US, and even Africa. There are a number of growth areas in the luxury hospitality space, which means there will be plenty of firsts for us as a firm in the next five years. We are excited to keep growing.  

Visit Singapore Business Review website for other stories.

Your rating: MagBe