BE GOOD: HOW TO TRULY EARN THE TITLE OF ‘DESIGN HOTEL’
Be Good is a series that looks behind the buzzwords of conservation and social responsibility, uncovering stories from travel projects that are not simply paying lip service to the growing importance of doing the right thing.
“Many of the industry’s ‘design hotels’ distance themselves from their local origins”, explains Ting-Han Daniel Chen, owner of Taipei’s Play Design Hotel. “Most of the time, travellers stay in a hotel room, and its design tells them nothing of the larger location. But with Play Design Hotel, design is a personalised and genuine experience. We use indigenous works to connect lodgers with the local culture and design community.”
It’s a very real problem. ‘Design hotels’ march on with their big-name statement pieces from celebrated European designers — while, in places like Taipei, young design talents are struggling to get their work in front of the buyers, collectors, and decision-makers who can change the course of their careers.
A designer himself, Chen’s concept was born of a frustration for seeing fellow Taiwanese designers forced to travel far and wide just to get their work in front of those very eyes; here, in his ‘living gallery’, the work of local designers can be experienced exactly as it is intended.
“I played a lot with the idea of using the hotel as a portal for people who want to learn about Taiwanese design”, admits the entrepreneur. “I wanted to transform it into a space that is furnished with all of these local designers’ work so that their work is not only shown, but it is experienced. Design isn’t something you only put in a museum or gallery: it should be used. It’s for your everyday use.”
There are plenty of small-scale hospitality projects that have boasted such support for their local design community, but few who have achieved it so impeccably. It’s a simple concept, but it is often behind such concepts where the sincerity and commitment to your beliefs unravel. Seen by Chen as a ‘three-dimensional publication’, Play Design Hotel is about bringing the editorial stance of a magazine or design blog to life, and so much more:
A ‘design tourism centre’ serving to educate design-loving guests about local designers, events, exhibitions and retailers; a ‘design incubator’ allowing emerging talent to prototype new works in the real world; and a ‘Taiwanese design knowledge base’ calls on a network of more than 80 local designers and brands. Indeed, the Play Design Hotel is many things, but at its core it is a platform that passionately supports its local creative community; a platform that puts designers before design.
With just five rooms, all that you see — lighting, chairs, tables, drinkware, bathroom amenities and so forth — has been curated from a pool of up-and-coming and ‘up-and-came’ Taiwanese designers; Play Design Hotel is delivering a marketplace for the local community and a meaningful experience for design-savvy travellers alike. The embodiment of a win-win situation, Chen’s is not a revolutionary contribution to the greater good, but it is a quiet blueprint for how the so-called ‘design’ hotels can truly promote change in the creative communities they co-inhabit.
Naturally, this respectful relationship between enterprise and independent creative talent need not begin and end in the world of accommodation, and Chen sees this: “I want to find a way to export this to other commercial spaces,” he explains, “like a restaurant or a bookstore. The idea is about revealing the everyday environment, and the stories behind each object. I think the linkage is kind of missing. It’s like we live in a physical space, but we don’t have an understanding of where the furniture came from, and what that story is behind the object we are using.”
He’s right: whether it’s ‘curating’ independent design talent in the name of dressing your venue with freebies, or making your space Instagram-friendly in the name of global homogenisation, there is a greater need for public understanding of the people behind the pieces. Who made the chair you’re sitting in while you’re reading this? And what was the thought process behind it? What were the limitations overcome by the person behind the hand-crafted bar who served you your artisan coffee at lunchtime?
Behind each design is a person; and if we’re to make a brighter, more meaningful future for us all, we must make the effort to understand one another a little bit better. That is why Ting-Han Daniel Chen’s Play Design Hotel is a model for change we should all pay attention to.
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.
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