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Q+A: Julia Monk Discusses Hospitality Design Trends in Asia Pacific

Julia Monk, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, is a director of HOK’s Hospitality practice based in Hong Kong.

Julia Monk was a founding partner with BBG-BBGM until the firm joined HOK in 2013. Under her leadership, BBG-BBGM developed into one of the world’s leading hospitality design firms. Monk relocated to Shanghai in 2010 and is now based in HOK’s Hong Kong office. She offers insight into key aspects of designing successful hospitality projects in Asia Pacific.

What does your typical day look like? 

Every day, I am up at 6:00 AM to head to the gym and grab breakfast. The next 10 hours are filled with design reviews, client get-togethers, internal meetings and interviews. It’s all very organic. At the end of the day, if I am not making calls to other parts of the world, particularly the East Coast, I have dinner with friends. Hong Kong has excellent restaurants!

How does the hospitality market in Asia Pacific differ from the US? 

The speed of design in Asia Pacific is very intense. Also, most of the properties we have designed in China cater primarily to Chinese visitors. To create successful projects, we have to be mindful of specific concerns and cultural traditions and incorporate them into our interiors. For example, our guest rooms and suites have to accommodate whole families – parents, children and two sets of grandparents who all typically vacation together.

As a global traveler, what advice would you give someone who’s looking for a luxury hotel stay? 

Do your research but be true to yourself. Though personal recommendations are great, today’s hotel industry is very brand and lifestyle specific. An option that may suit your friend may not be ideal for you.

Which projects are you working on at the moment? 

HOK has a diverse and extensive roster of global hospitality projects. Currently, we are designing interiors for Peninsula-branded apartments in Yangon, Myanmar and a Four Seasons Resort on Haitang Bay in Sanya, Hainan Island. As the country’s only subtropical island, it is known as the Hawaii of China.

HOK is providing architectural and interior design for the Millennium Hotel in Makkah Techno Valley, Saudi Arabia; The Westin Nanchang in Jiangxi, China; and the Xiamen Hotel in Fujian, China. Offering both architectural and interior design services on these projects makes the collaboration more cohesive. We are also working with our New York office on Hilton Hotels in Tianjin and Lanzhou, China. Each of these properties has a unique story to tell, from our French reproduction in Xiamen to our cool, luxury resort for the Four Seasons at Haitang Bay.

What’s next for HOK in hospitality design? 

We are impacting the design of markets outside the traditional hospitality sector. We are working with HOK’s architects, landscape architects, sustainability leaders and Aviation + Transportation directors to create a model showing how hospitality design can inform modern airport design. Our targeted airport is located in a subtropical climate, and we are applying a modern sensibility offering myriad activities to maximize the travel experience while creating a bespoke airport journey. To say this multidisciplinary undertaking is exciting is an understatement!

What advice would you give to young designers? 

Make time to travel and savor the experience. Create a resource of memories to draw upon when you are designing. What was most enjoyable and comfortable? What was the most exciting or inspiring? These experiences will help create your vocabulary for design. A seamless hospitality experience is not limited to a stylish interior. Spaces must go beyond looking good to offer guests an easy, functional, comfortable and enjoyable experience.

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