Boutique Design - July/August 2017 - 8
EditEd by Mat thEw hall
Seeing isn't necessarily believing. Sometimes it takes some hands-on time
to truly feel a design's impact. Believe me, I know: As someone whose job
description involves curating project and product photography based on
what will pop on paper, I found my recent visit to UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera
Maya to be a refreshing reminder of how a tonal, minimalist palette can
deliver maximal visual punch with the right materials.
About a month after the property opened, AIC Hotel Group (the Miamibased sales/marketing arm of owner-operator RCD Hotels) invited me and
15 other journalists to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula for an insider look at the
concept, which marks the debut of this all-inclusive luxury brand. The reallife wow factor went way beyond the polished photography the hotelier's
PR reps had provided. Natural textures, expert finishing, local craftsmanship and soothing water features weren't just eye candy, they served as tactile
reminders of the flag's ultra-luxe, adults-only objective.
That's all thanks to AvroKO. Led by partners/principals William Harris,
Greg Bradshaw, Kristina O'Neal and Adam Farmerie, the New York design
and concept firm leveraged a regional network of makers and suppliers to
create a locally relevant, high-end vision for the 448-key project, which marks
the designers' entry into the all-inclusive realm.
"We had worked on hotels that are close to the same scope, but are more
vertically oriented and in urban environments," said Bradshaw in a follow-up
Q+A. "However, this was our first project of this scale in a resort-like context."
The goal was to strike a balance between refined and casual, setting the
tone for a beach hotel that would appeal to a sophisticated clientele who
typically goes for a less-inclusive luxury offering. But achieving that interplay
took more than an artful eye; it required intensive, on-the-ground research.
"We visited a number of comparable properties in the area that were not
all inclusive, such as Rosewood Mayakoba and NIZUC Resort & Spa," recalled
O'Neal. "We knew that this would be an adults-only property, and that the
restaurant concepts [which AvroKO later designed] and the hotel's architectural design [by Mexican firm ARTIGAS Arquitectos] had already been
approved. Beyond that, the client was looking to us to provide the look and
boutiquedesign.com july + august 2017
feel for the entire project."
While buzz words like authentic and eco-conscious made their way to
the forefront of the creative brief, the decidedly contemporary outcome was
a far cry from many high-profile Latin American oceanfront retreats, such as
Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta (another AIC property I visited a few years ago) and
W Punta de Mita (which earned several honors in last year's Gold Key Award
for Excellence in Hospitality Design competition). Plastering the palette in
vibrant patterns and mosaics was off the table. Instead, the target was a
micro-local, modern-day representation of the Riviera Maya. Every handcrafted detail feels indigenous to the site, located near a Mayan village.
"Our typical approach to any project is to utilize the materials and skills
of the community in which we are working," said Farmerie. "We also gravitate
towards finishes that are more natural."
The design team worked with local fabricators to incorporate native
materials. "We found that slabs of local stone were sometimes cheaper than
tiled surfaces in this process," added Farmerie. "As a result, we ended up with
a higher quality feel at a lower budget."
Finding those local craftsmen took insider help, too. "We were fortunate
to have a contractor with many local connections already in place, as well as
a client who had completed multiple projects in the area," said Harris. "Therefore, we had some suppliers ready to work with."
Despite the challenges of working in a remote locale, Farmerie emphasized that the most rewarding aspect of every project is "when the individual
operators start to buy into and take ownership of the various stories and
narratives that informed the design, and imbue those concepts into the food,
the bar displays, the music and the service."
Speaking of F&B, AvroKO also designed all of the hotel's five restaurants
and six bars, while its Brand Bureau division collaborated with the hotel's
ownership to create the naming and graphics for each restaurant, as well as
to develop the property's website.
For more on UNICO 20°87°, check out my blog on boutiquedesign.com.
C O U R T E S Y O F U N I C O 2 0 ° 8 7 ° H O T E L R I V I E R A M AYA
DESIGN DIARY: UNICO 20°87° HOTEL RIVIERA MAYA