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Patrick Reardon: On architecture, the hotel industry and where business meets lifestyle

As one of the founding partners of ReardonSmith, architect Patrick Reardon has designed everything from The Savoy in London to the Four Seasons in Baku.

He spoke to Compelo about leadership, Brexit and why he can’t stand the term ‘hotel of the future’.

Patrick Reardon - Compelo
Patrick Reardon designed The Savoy in London

Patrick Reardon, from your experience, what qualities make a successful boss and business leader?

Praise in public and criticise in private. Defend your colleagues when they’re right and protect them when they’re trying but are wrong. Also, listen to the opinions of others, act with courtesy to all and have the courage to make tough decisions. Most importantly, maintain a sense of humour.

Above all, though, bosses and business leaders should aim to inspire in everything they do. That way, they may then at least inspire some of us in what they do!

What are the most common mistakes that business leaders make?

A common mistake is management by dictate – it doesn’t work. Employees need to feel involved in decisions and they rightfully expect interest and respect from their managers.

Sometimes it can be difficult to admit that you don’t know. However, if you don’t confess your ignorance, this leads to muddled messages or jargon-fuelled communications, and you will be found wanting. For this reason, it is best to own up and invite colleagues to share in the problem solving.

What have been the high and low points of your career?

Without doubt, the high point of my career is one that has sustained me for nearly 30 years: founding ReardonSmith. Watching it grow into a happy and successful office and seeing our juniors develop when they are nurtured and given responsibility.

I was also incredibly lucky to begin my career in I.M. Pei’s office in New York. He inspired me and the experience of working in his office became the bedrock of my attitude to architecture and design.

With equal certainty, I can say the lowest point was the sudden death last October of my dear friend and business partner during these 30 years, Conrad Smith.

Patrick Reardon - Compelo
Patrick Reardon designed The Beaumont in London

What are the key architecture and design trends, and what will the hotel of the future look like?

Hotels have become much more diverse over the past 20 years as clients have sought differentiation through design. It used to be that there were rather stuffy hotels, lack-lustre properties in the middle and budget boxes. Now there are numerous types and customers who choose their hotel precisely because they have not stayed there before.

Meanwhile, more experience of travel is leading to higher customer expectations and there are the so-called disruptors such as Airbnb. Innovation, technology and new products have helped to deliver success across the spectrum.  That includes “posh” hostels to neighbourhood establishments to those with multiple food and beverage (F&B) offerings and hotels with no dining at all. Even the elite hotels are doing things a bit differently.

That said, the phrase ‘hotel of the future’ makes me shriek. It so often leads to time-wasting CGIs of hotels that will never see the light of day and are merely irrational whimsy.

Changes in technology, style preferences and F&B concepts will continue to inform the guest experience as operators seek to outbid one another. However, the principles of good hotel architecture have remained the same since the last radical development − providing every bedroom with its own bathroom.

How will Brexit impact UK and European architecture and design?

I don’t think there will be any impact. Even if the UK has new border restrictions, UK professionals already work around the world where visas are required. I am confident that overseas professionals will continue to be able to work here.

What advice would you give to aspiring architects starting out in the hotel industry?

Above all, understand that there are strict commercial requirements in designing a hotel. Function is hugely more important than form, façade and finish. Sadly, function in all types of architecture is so often subordinated to the other three. Hotels should be designed from the inside out. They are not exercises in large-scale sculpture.

Look, listen and talk to as many hotel people as you can – porters, housekeepers, waiters and management. Understand the experience of people who make hospitality happen and the type of environment you should be designing for them. This is as important as designing for the guest.

Finally, I would emphasise that designing for longevity is quite simply the best way of conserving our planet’s resources.

Patrick Reardon discusses his work on iconic London hotel The Beaumont in Hotel Management International.

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