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HOK’s Julia Monk Describes What She Has Learned on Hospitality Design’s Podcast

Stacy Shoemaker Rauen talks to HOK’s Hong Kong-based director of hospitality about her passion for the industry and what she has learned over her career as a designer in North America, Europe and Asia.

Excerpted from Hospitality Design’s What I’ve Learned podcast:

Julia Monk, FIIDA, FAIA, LEED AP, grew up in the Midwest but her career has taken her all over the world from Denmark to New York and Hong Kong, where she is now based. The trained architect has worked on projects big and small, but HOK’s director of hospitality points to two things that have solidified her passion for the hospitality industry: the merger between BBG-BBGM and HOK and her time living and working in Asia. Both of which transformed her worldview, allowing her to be fully immersed in all facets of design.

On her love for hospitality design:

“There are so many variables that you have to think about when you’re designing a hospitality project that you don’t necessarily have to think about when you’re designing other project types. You really have to think about the human experience. And I liked that a lot.”

One difference about working in China:

“It’s a country of group entitlement. Rather than thinking about what’s the best thing for the individual, they think about what’s the best thing for the group. And when you start thinking about that basic difference between our cultures, it truly affects everything they do. … We adjusted what we were doing to accommodate that spirit of cooperation. … That focus on cooperation made a huge difference in how we were doing business there and how we were successful and why we were more successful.”

On working around the world:

“It is very interesting to go to these places and get on the ground and really understand what these cities are all about, what makes them special, what we can take from the city to influence the design work that we’re doing and how we define the place of the project within the time of that city.”

How the industry has changed over her career:

“Everything was so standard back then. Hotel companies would be really happy to take you to see their mock-up room, and then they would say, ‘OK, this is the room and we’re going to just put this in the hotel many, many, many, many times.’ Or if you went to Ritz-Carlton in Hawaii and Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., the interiors were always the same between the two down to the carpet in the hallways. There was a real need to guarantee to the guests that the best surprise was no surprise at all. And now you look at what we’re doing, where everything has to be individualized. We’re getting down to so many different brands and so much about lifestyle and so much about the individualization of our designs. So it’s been pretty sweeping to go from cookie-cutter—make them all look alike—to how can we make it meaningful and individual?”

On living in Hong Kong:

“I like the continuing adventure of my life, from Chicago to Indiana to Denmark to Washington, D.C., to New York again, and then Shanghai and Hong Kong. It’s been pretty cool to try these different cities out. … My boyfriend and I live in a houseboat on Aberdeen Harbour on the south side of Hong Kong.”

Advice for people starting out in the profession:

“Find something that you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about it, you’re going to be giving too much time away. Find something you’re passionate about and really just enjoy living.”

Listen to the entire podcast.

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