From its offices in London and Prague, award-winning architecture and design firm, Jestico + Whiles, has experienced rapid growth in recent years, having completed a range of quality and innovative hospitality projects throughout Europe, the Middle East and India. Hospitality Interiors’ Katie Sherry speaks with associate director, James Dilley, about the shift in signature style, why sustainable design is compulsory and his favourite projects to date – from a hotel that spans a Grand Prix race track to a fine-dining restaurant in Western Europe’s tallest building.

How did you forge a career in hospitality design?
When I joined Jestico + Whiles, the practice was just completing The Hempel, one of the first boutique hotels in London – sadly recently closed. At that time, Gordon Campbell Gray [prominent hotelier and founder of CampbellGray Hotels] was looking for designers for One Aldwych, another of the original boutique hotels, and we were selected. As a young architect, this gave me exposure to one of the great minds of hospitality. From this project I learnt the golden formula: service x environment = experience.

How do Jestico + Whiles’ design philosophies complement your own?
The practice has a wide variety of specialisms. In fact, it has been said that diversity is our speciality. But good design is good design when applied to any typology, and in essence it can be distilled to enhancing the experience of the user. And of course we make sure that every project has its quota of joy and delight.

When designing for hotel brands, which wins out – a signature style or individualised design?
At the upscale level, signature style is less rigid than it was, and brand books are now written to allow some flexibility. Our aspiration is to reflect a sense of place with subtle and oblique references to the cultural and geographical context.

In the boutique sector and high-end hotels, many travellers do not want complete conformity so that when they are inside their hotel they don’t know which country or city they are visiting. It used to be the case that standardisation was a guarantee of consistency of quality, but customers are much more sophisticated these days.

“The practice has a wide variety of specialisms. In fact, it has been said that diversity is our speciality”

How has hospitality design evolved over the years?
The hospitality sector has evolved in response to a whole series of factors, such as the overall growth in international travel, changing work and travel patterns, different trends in eating and drinking, etc. Design has had to evolve in line with this.

Jestico + Whiles is an advocate of sustainable design – why is this so important?
Sustainability is not a bolt on – it is something that is inherent in the provision of buildings. The buildings are incredibly efficient now, compared to even 20 years ago. Unfortunately, wind turbines do not necessarily suit all.

Which hospitality project are you most proud of to date?
Probably the conversion of a textile factory in Lodz, Poland into the Andel’s Hotel Lodz. The factory had been in operation from 1878 until 1992 and had layers and layers of history under which lay a beautiful, classic industrial building built with craftsmanship no longer available to us, including brick vaults and cast iron frame.

The difference here was that the extraordinary spaces within the building generated the accommodation within it, rather than a programme being forced into the building in the normal way. Hence, the lobby becomes a true art gallery, a catwalk for fashion shows or an events space. Light sculptures cut through the building’s fabric representing the contemporary signature of 2011, when it was completed.

Which other projects stand out in the portfolio?
I have been fortunate enough to have worked on a number of once-in-a-lifetime projects – from the creation of a hotel as a light box on Leicester Square [Playboy Club and Casino], to the interior design of a hotel which spans a Grand Prix racetrack [Yas Hotel, Abu Dhabi]. I have also worked with the Playboy archives to create the new club in Mayfair, and designed an interactive hotel facade inspired by a birch forest changing through the seasons in The Urals in Russia.

We also completed Aqua Shard last year, which offers beautiful views across London and beyond from high up in The Shard. I was particularly looking forward to when it opened for early morning breakfasts. That breakfast view has never existed before.

How did you work with the client to ensure that Aqua Shard was a success?
We worked extremely closely with the owner and designer of Aqua Shard, David Yeo. He is a master of hospitality but also master in the niche skill-set of designing high-end restaurants, having completed many projects of this kind before. The key is that the internal environment and the view to the exterior must enhance each other, not compete. For example, nothing must obstruct the view out of the building, particularly reflections, and especially reflections of lights. It is important to learn something in each project.

“I have been fortunate enough to have worked on a number of once-in-a-lifetime projects”

What are your plans for the future?
We are working in some great, unusual places around the world, but it is always good to keep one foot on the ground with at least one project in London. Above all, I hope that we continue to have the pleasure of working alongside inspirational clients, while always remembering George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”