5 -min. read

Norman Foster does it all over the world. Daniel Libeskind, I.M. Pei and Tando Ando have each done it at least once. Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry both did it in Spain. Richard Meier just finished doing it again. The 20th century saw Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Arne Jacobsen, Geoffrey Bawa, Kenzo Tange and John Lautner do it as well.

Designing a hotel is something of a rite of passage to architecture’s hall of fame. In fact, many talents in the design world today first drew international notice through hospitality projects: Jean Michel Gathy, Adam Tihany and Bill Bensley come to mind. Such attention is a two-way street. Andre Fu’s name has become synonymous with the game-changing Hong Kong guest experience that is The Upper House, just as Todd Saunders’ iconic design for Fogo Island Inn helped make it one of the most talked about hotels in the world.

In the LE spirit of looking ahead, here are three architects whom hoteliers should add to their shortlist.


From top: Artcurial auction house; Black Ocean Firehouse; Baccarat Madison Avenue

Drawing references from contemporary art and music, UCLA-trained architect Rafael de Cárdenas detoured through a successful fashion career before launching his design firm Architecture at Large in 2006. Small and large-scale projects followed, including the Madison Avenue flagship of Baccarat, which pays homage to the venerable brand by exaggerating the crystal form into an especially eye-catching facade.

Interior at Baccarat

“Creating desirability,” says the Manhattan-raised designer of his mandate for commercial clients. Clients hire him, de Cárdenas explains, to entice people into environments that make them want to participate in the experience offered by that brand. This design-based strategic partnership has already worked successfully for Nike, Cartier, and in the highly stylized, yet never overpowering, downtown Manhattan retail space the 2016 Maison Objet Americas Designer of the Year created for cult Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster – just as it would for hotels.

He has worked at a similar scale already. The 19th-century NY firehouse he revamped into office space for young technology companies balances gathering spaces with workstations that encourage individual creativity under dynamic light fixtures zigzagging across the ceiling. The original façade makes an of-the-moment impression too, lacquered a bold dark grey in sharp contrast to its drab urban neighbors. A hotel seems a natural evolution, especially given de Cárdenas’ design process, which always begins “with writing a fantasy script for the client” including a narrative, set design and even a soundtrack.

From top: Asia de Cuba, Greenwich Village



After 25 years and three million square feet of built architecture, Edwin Chan left his position as a design partner in Frank Gehry’s practice to launch his L.A.-based EC3 design studio in 2012. The Hong Kong-born, Harvard-trained Chan credits Gehry with teaching him the importance of collaborating in the design process and how to listen to the client, two essential qualities for building a hotel.

Edwin Chan with prototypes

“Bringing people together is the most important mission of architecture,” Chan reflects, speaking in deceptively simple terms about his famously complex work on projects like Bilbao’s transformative Guggenheim Museum and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Clients meanwhile cite Chan’s “intuitive approach” and his value-driven design solutions. For a mixed-use 22-story tower underway in Bogotá, Chan’s response to a design problem involved creating public green spaces and gathering places, as it often does, where none previously existed.

Indoors and out, Chan values tactile environments that promote human interaction. Chalet, a now defunct private members club in L.A., allowed him to create a venue where art and architecture complete the social experience. Chan designed all aspects of the interior, including the lighting fixtures and furniture.  “Everything here happens for a reason,” says his “very, very happy” client Piero Golia, who appreciated Chan’s approach to forms that never sacrifice function.


From top: Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Marciano Art Foundation

The go-to choice for art and cultural institutions of late, Bangkok-born Kulapat Yantrasast is currently working on five contemporary art spaces in Los Angeles alone, including the hotly anticipated Marciano Art Foundation. Historic by L.A. standards, the 1961 Scottish Rite Masonic Temple provides Yantrasast with the opportunity “to foster a synergy between the historic building, contemporary art and the urban environment.” That challenge will resonate with anyone reviving a heritage structure as a boutique hotel.

Before launching his interdisciplinary design practice wHY in 2003, Yantrasast worked seven years for his mentor Tadao Ando. “Influences are most profound when they are mutual,” he recalls about the collaborative environment nurtured by the Pritzker Prize–winning Japanese architect. That legacy manifests in the Thai designer’s open-minded approach to clients. “I am drawn to unusual people, people with uncommon ideas, challenging thoughts.”

For wHY’s first project, the LEED gold-certified Grand Rapids Art Museum completed in 2007, the L.A.-based firm pioneered a low energy air conditioning system. Since then Yantrasast has consistently pursued the notion that “environmental conscience must be the backbone of architecture and design thinking.” Unusually for a museum, three-quarters of the spaces within that monumental ode to geometric forms incorporate natural light.

Unsurprisingly, Yantrasast considers nature the architect he most admires. The best buildings, he believes, offer people “something more dynamic than just to live in them.” Calling his own concrete, glass and steel house in Venice Beach a “vessel” for receiving sunlight and shadows throughout the day, this multicultural designer would seem especially well suited to resort design, given his profound fascination for the constant interplay between the natural and the manmade.

From top: Hollywood Sign House, Venice Beach House, proposal for DTLA hotel


Cynthia Rosenfeld is Editor-at-Large for Surface magazine, covering all that is compelling across contemporary architecture, design, fashion, culture and travel. She studied Chinese at Yale after (nearly) failing her first architecture course. Now she just checks into hotels around the world after someone else has done all the work.

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