In an insightful talk at the Alumni Reunion, Tony Chi – founder of award winning Toni Chi Studios in New York – shared the blueprint for his career in hotel design. He discussed the three ‘voices’ that shape hospitality, and explained how it all began for him with a dream to be mayor of the Big Apple.
I wanted be a mayor of New York, and you can’t be a mayor if you don’t know how to build a city.
He may not have become the mayor, but Tony has definitely helped build and shape remarkable hotels in New York and around the world. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Tony moved to New York’s Lower East Side at the age of six. His love for design was strong even at a young age, attending the High School of Art and Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
After founding Tony Chi Studios in 1984, his international career saw him design restaurants for top chefs as well as hotels around the world, including the Park Hyatt in Shanghai, Andaz Tokyo, Andaz New York and Rosewood London. His signature ‘invisible design’ is uniquely his own, basing design on what you feel rather than what you see. In 2009 he was inducted into Interior Design’s Hall of Fame and in 2015 won FIT’s Lawrence Israel Prize.
“I look at space as creating a platform for events. I think the most beautiful thing in life is unpredictability, but fundamentally having something in common that can bring it all together”, he said to alumni at the reunion. “It’s about how we connect the dots, whether we make the city efficient or romantic.”
The dots Tony alludes to in his immersive 45 minute talk, are the three ‘voices’: Hospitality, Institution and People.
What’s the voice of hospitality?
Tony’s view on the voice of our industry:
‘A tradition, an experience, a practice, an art form. These are the gestures, whether seen, heard, tasted or felt, found in all the world’s cultures and sacred traditions. It is inherent in each of us, expressed wherever and whenever human beings interact.
“I used this as a base for the last 34 years”, Tony said. Believing the voice of hospitality is within all of us, giving us all a different outlook to explore. “I have a different opinion, so each one of us all should have a different opinion of what a hotel should be.”
“What exactly is a hotel? If you label a hotel as a hotel it will be nothing more than just a hotel. But what if the hotel is a place that brings people together? Makes things happen. Makes memories through events.”
Practicing the art of hospitality
Tony explained how important he believes hospitality is, not just to the guests we serve but to the entire human race. “The Hotel industry can be the backbone of humanity, so I create spaces for that, I create spaces to awaken your subconsciousness, I create spaces so you artistically can practice your everyday life.”
For Tony, we should all be in the business (or practicing the art) of creating moments. Tired of prescribed ‘encounters’ at check-in, he believes hospitality is naturally in us all and should be expressed individually, even if we work under one overarching brand.
Education does not stop when you graduate, it is just the beginning.
There’s endless knowledge to be found in the talk, one particular insight was the role of a hotel to ‘bring people home’, and the responsibility of us in hospitality to create the feeling of home, for guests, whatever time they walk into the building.
In a fascinating anecdote from a global career, Tony talks about a hotel he redesigned in London. “Sometimes it’s not about what we do, it’s about what we don’t do.” “I’ve basically let this place be its own place.”
Preserving the art of hospitality
Tony comments on the changing face of hospitality, as technology begins to redefine the guest experience. “The reception counter may not exist any more, we may break down that barrier between people to people, if we have people! Every project I’m involved with I always ask what is that we don’t have, what is fading away and how do we preserve it.”
He also discusses the threat to hospitality from within that poses a great challenge to him and all of us. Set aside 45 minutes and absorb every moment of this invaluable access to a true innovator in hospitality design.