In a world exclusive interview, Hotel Spec Editor Can Faik meets the new leadership team behind award-winning design studio Perkins Eastman...
Perkins Eastman is an award-winning global design firm with an expert understanding of the hospitality industry. With offices worldwide, the firm combines a strong local sensibility with a global perspective. In a world exclusive interview, SPACE Editor Can Faik meets the new leadership team – Shawn Basler, Nick Leahy and Andrew Adelhardt…
Co-founders L. Bradford Perkins, FAIA, and Mary- Jean Eastman, FAIA, of Perkins Eastman, a first- generation global architecture and design firm established in 1981, and J. David Hoglund, FAIA, President of Perkins Eastman, recently announced a transition of leadership within the firm. Shawn Basler, AIA, Nick Leahy, AIA, and Andrew Adelhardt, Esq. will lead the 1,000-person firm, which has 17 offices worldwide, going forward as Co-Chief Executive Officers.
Tell me about your roles at Perkins Eastman.
Shawn Basler: While some firms have been founded or led by a single individual, we believe that for a large multi-disciplined design firm to be strategic and effective, it takes a collaborative team leadership to manage and set the strategic goals of the firm.Nick Leahy: At Perkins Eastman, we have always believed in teamwork and that starts with our leadership team. Collaboration leads to a strong firm and more holistic processes.Andrew Adelhardt: Our goal is to continue guiding the legacy our founders developed, while also looking to anticipate and plan for future issues and challenges.
What five words best describe Perkins Eastman?
Nick Leahy: Purposeful, personal, genuine, collaborative and imaginative.
What does design mean to you?
Shawn Basler: Design means everything. It affects every aspect of our business from how we partner with our clients, how we think about our projects, and how we engage with our staff. It’s a creative process.
What does architecture mean to you?
Nick Leahy: Architecture is one of the most creative, collaborative, and human experiences you can have. When you design, build, or make anything, it involves so many people with different skills and motives who somehow come together, solve problems, and make the concept a reality. That’s a very powerful human experience.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
Shawn Basler: My whole career has been in hospitality design. I began my career with Brennan Beer Gorman, working on luxury hotels such as the Peninsula Bangkok, Peninsula New York, and the St. Regis New York. Each of the projects taught me how, as designers, we can choreograph the guest experience by delivering a level of quality and service to our clients.
What are you looking forward to over the coming year as Co-CEOs?
Shawn Basler: What’s most exciting for me is continuing to build upon the legacy of our founding principals, investing in our talented team across the firm, and continuing to partner with our wonderful clients around the globe on exciting new projects.
Nick Leahy: We look forward to working and collaborating together and defining what a large design firm can be in the future.Andrew Adelhardt: I’m looking forward to continuing to listen and learn and to work with and nurture our talented team.
How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Shawn Basler: We want to continue to grow into new markets, invest in the creative talent we have, and empower our employees to help continue to build our firm and establish the next generation of leadership.Nick Leahy: We want to create a design culture that fulfills all our employees’ potential and make Perkins Eastman the place where people want to be. We want to open opportunities and extend the platform so it will be sustainable for the next generation, the next one after that one, and beyond.
What do you hope to accomplish within the next year?Andrew Adelhardt: We want to continue to build the legacy of our brand and establish ourselves in new markets by empowering the talent across our firm; spending as much time as possible meeting with individuals and really understanding their needs.
What makes Perkins Eastman different from other design companies?
Shawn Basler: We do not have a signature style or follow trends. Instead, we put the user at the heart of all of our projects and understand how the buildings and the places we design impact the people and environments where they exist. We are place-makers and storytellers. We create personal, unique, authentic, and memorable experiences.Nick Leahy: Even though we’re a large global firm, we have an incredibly personal approach with our clients and the communities where we work. We truly understand that design takes teamwork and we’re definitely people-centered.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
Shawn Basler: We don’t like using the word ‘trend’. We believe that the important influences in hospitality design are how places are becoming much more personal and authentic, woven around a story that ties itself to the local culture and place, and how wellness is integrated into the design and guest experience. Each of these are having a profound impact on how the hotel industry is thinking about design.Nick Leahy: Across the industry, it’s more about the experience of staying in a hotel than before. You go to any good hotel now and they understand what hospitality can be. Hotels understand that their brand, the experience people have in that hotel, from the moment they enter the lobby, is an important and memorable part of a trip if it is done well.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Shawn Basler: Public spaces are the heart and soul of a hotel. They are both personal and public, a place for people to engage, interact, socialise, and create a sense of community, but also a place to have some private ‘me time’. Successful public spaces have the ability to draw guests from outside the hotel to dine, drink, and socialise, creating an important and memorable sense of community.Nick Leahy: Hotels have an important civic aspect; they are regenerators of many downtowns. In fact, that’s how the grand hotels of the Gilded Age started. They were the places where everybody congregated in the city, they were the place to meet, and they had the best restaurants. In a way, it’s going back to that – hotels are destinations within cities now.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Perkins Eastman stand out from the rest?
Shawn Basler: While Perkins Eastman has a global footprint, we have a very personal and a very inquisitive approach to design. We are thinkers, doers, travellers, and storytellers. We understand, however, how the hospitality industry has influenced and continues to influence other markets where we’re active and that’s a real differentiator whether that be in urban design, healthcare, senior living, or corporate interiors.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Perkins Eastman felt the effects?
Shawn Basler: We’re seeing the exciting revitalisation of new neighbourhoods and downtowns in a lot of cities, such as Detroit, Nashville, and Houston, to name a few where we are working. Hotels help change those neighbourhoods by creating new economic growth and destinations. While some larger cities have levelled out with hotel development, other cities are coming back and offering great opportunities for design and market growth.Nick Leahy: Hotels are such an important part of a city’s fabric and infrastructure, and it’s no secret that the world is becoming more urban. Well-designed hotels will always be a catalyst for neighbourhood and economic growth.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
Shawn Basler: Europe, Middle East, and Africa are markets where we are seeing strong growth and opportunities. At any given time, we’re working on designs in almost a dozen countries.
What has Perkins Eastman learnt over its years in the industry?
Shawn Basler: It’s important to be good listeners and invest in our people and talent.Nick Leahy: It’s all about people.Andrew Adelhardt: The human element of design and the human element of operating the firm are critical.
What has been your favourite project to date?
Shawn Basler: Every project we work on is my favourite project. We have been lucky to work with so many amazing clients and operators around the world, and each project brings its own design opportunity and excitement. Andrew Adelhardt: One of my favourite projects is a cross-over project. I especially like the Memorial Sloan Kettering Josie Robertson Surgery Center because I spent 24-hours there with a family member, and it was such a revelation to see that the power of good design can support the healing process. MSK takes an approach of more of a hospitality environment than a healthcare setting and that’s both comforting and nurturing.
What’s next for you?
Shawn Basler: Continuing to listen and learn, being inquisitive.Nick Leahy: As co-CEOs, shepherding the transition is going to be important but also continuing to build the next generation of design and leadership will be essential.Andrew Adelhardt: Be inquisitive.
Where in the world currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Shawn Basler: I travel overseas about 12 times a year and have had the opportunity to visit and work in so many great places. The place I would love to spend more time in the near future is Japan.Nick Leahy: I would love to take a trip on the Orient Express across Europe and end up in Istanbul.Andrew Adelhardt: I’ve always wanted to go to Tokyo and Beijing, and I have to say the Galapagos Islands, because that’s where my wife is pushing for.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Shawn Basler: Every hotel project we work on is fabulous, and our dream project is always the next one. With that said, it would be fun to work with SpaceX or Virgin Galactic on an orbiting hotel.Nick Leahy: Well, I have always thought that Lever House on Park Avenue would be an awesome project to turn into a boutique hotel. It’s a modernist icon, it’s location is perfect, it would be a real New York experience to stay there right at the heart of it all across from the Seagram building. You could have a lot of fun with that and I think the whole ground level plaza would make a terrific grand arrival sequence, and the second floor raised plinth would make a great restaurant bar.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Shawn Basler: We will see more customisable and personal guest experiences and a strong continued focus on health and wellness. I believe we will also see the continued convergence of hospitality design with other industries such as residential, workplace, senior living, and even healthcare.
What would you say are the best places you’ve ever stayed?
Shawn Basler: For me, the Park Hyatt Seoul is one of my favourite hotels and guest rooms. In addition, I have always loved the George V in Paris as well as the Royal Mansour in Marrakech.Nick Leahy: The Mandarin in Hong Kong was really cool. A while back, a Chinese client found out I was travelling back via Hong Kong and that one of my favourite buildings was the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, so they booked me a room in the Mandarin with a view of the building. The hotel room was very well designed and comfortable.
What will the Co-Founders L. Bradford Perkins and Mary-Jean Eastman, and President J. David Hoglund do going forward?
Andrew Adelhardt: Brad and Mary-Jean will continue to be very involved going forward. Brad will remain Chairman, fostering key client relationships, leading projects of personal interest or that are strategically important to the firm, and continuing to build our global platform. Mary-Jean will continue forward as Vice-Chair, focusing on nurturing a stronger internal culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is passionate about the healthcare environments we build and will continue to help evolve the design of innovative healthcare environments for our clients worldwide. Dave will continue in an executive leadership role supporting the success of this new generation of leadership.