New London Architecture

Five minutes with Jon Grant, interior design director, Benoy

Monday 17 January 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hello, John, how are you? 
 
Jon Grant  
Hi David, I'm great. 
 
David Taylor  
I wanted to chat to you about something that your practice sent me about your attitude to interior design, and the 'whys and what-ifs of reimagining spaces at the human scale' - that was the title of the piece. Broadly, I think that’s about the blurring of uses and the boundaries between sectors, isn't it? And whether hospitality can be, I guess, pushed forward in workplace and other scenarios. Could you unpack your feelings on this?
 
Jon Grant  
Yeah - my take on this is that everybody wants to feel like they're going into an environment where they are getting a bit of boutique or bespoke service. That's happening now with residential; it's happening in workplaces, and it has been happening in hospitality for a number of years. But people need to walk into an environment now and have a choice where they want to go, where they want to sit, what they want to eat. So, clients with workplace are asking us to design something that feels like a hotel. Airports are asking us to design something that feels something that might feel like a five-star hotel. Hotels are asking us to merge, workplace or co-working in there and F&B, so it becomes like more of a unified space across all sectors – so everybody can use it, not just the guests in the hotel. 
So, I guess all those lines are blurring and it's connecting communities and people. Now, we're looking at these different spaces and thinking from a hospitality angle. How are people going to feel? What do they get within the space that's slightly different to what they are used to? To get people back to the office, they need to feel that there's much more of an offer for them to be comfortable working. And that's not a case of them feeling that they're working at home; that is having a decent enough F&B selection, different types of seating, somewhere that can mix up the day that's pulling them and drawing them back. 
That's also happening in terms of how to get people back to hotels and to start using hotels - they want a bit more than they are used to having. Now it's not the conventional desk and person sitting behind the desk, some of them are saying: can it feel like a club or a club lounge when you walk into an airport? On one airport we're working on at the moment, they're saying they don't want it to feel like an airport. It needs to feel like you are walking into a luxury five-star hotel. How do you make the airport experience like that? 
So: all these demands that clients are putting on us; we're having to reimagine that. And that's why I'm saying it is at a human scale, because of the touch and feel. You're walking in and you’re being asked to make a decision. Where do you go and sit? Why would you go and sit there? Why would you go there in the first place? It's got to be this kind of experiential element, layering on top of that is the retail experience. And how will we be imagining the retail experience? Again, people want more from these spaces, not just going into a shop and shopping. What does the developer or the landlord give to the customer which doesn't mean they have to spend money? So again, interactive lounge spaces - can people go and sit down, wait, and spend more time there? If they're going to spend more time there and not shopping, what can they do? What is the experience?
 
David Taylor  
So, with airports, for instance, that is about airport operators making money, presumably, rather than funneling people through, efficiently, to the aeroplane?
 
Jon Grant  
No, it's not. It's about having people enjoy the experience and going to the airport, a slightly different experience. Okay, some of it is making you drive the retail to spend more, but then some are having to give back where people can sit - outside the business lounge is what changes in the business lounges. The whole experience is being driven in a different way and they're having to give back more without customers having to spend more.
 
David Taylor  
Which airport are you are you working on, incidentally? Could you tell us?
 
Jon Grant  
The one I mentioned is confidential, but it is in the Middle East And this will have a sort of boutique hotel feel? It's going to be different and be unlike any other airport. So yeah, the drive there is to make it not feel like a normal airport experience.
 
David Taylor  
So, what will be there that isn't in a normal airport - without giving anything too much away?
 
Jon Grant  
Well, from check-in to getting on the plane, is going to be more of a seamless experience. It's going to be faster, you're going to have concierge services; it will feel less, kind of intense, than an airport would normally feel. Airports are anxiety-inducing environments, right? So, they have got to try and reduce that - nice viewpoints, connect points and connections with the exterior, even connections with the actual airplane - visibility there from the minute you walk in. Everything's going to be considered where it is reducing that anxiety of having to get there and rushing around. It's much more of a smoother experience.
 
David Taylor  
So broadly, what do you think has caused this shift and this blurring between boundaries?
 
Jon Grant  
I think it's been happening for years. But I just think now there's a drive for more agile working. Agile working environments have enhanced the workplace - how to get people to come to the office and be more comfortable. And that's been driven by a number of key clients over the years, but now I think it is filtering into every single sector and office department. COVID and health - that's driven it. And then I would say, how retail started to fail. All these failing of retail, repurposing of retail, the workplace/ agile working shift, then COVID, with the health angle to that, how people use these spaces. And then, again, with hospitality, connecting with the local environment, and connecting with local communities, to all these drivers, you can add the layer of sustainability and the carbon neutral drive. It's kind of like a perfect storm, where all these things have happened in a short space of time. Everyone's having to reconsider their buildings and assets, how to make them more user-friendly, more customer-driven and more sustainable. That's driving it. And there is a competitive environment as well. So, in the workplace, for example, to get people is incredibly competitive now. So, you have to make sure what you're offering is different, and people are going to come and go: "Yeah, I want to work at this place and that suits my kind of lifestyle and what I want".
 
David Taylor  
How does London figure compared to the rest of the world in terms of this particular area and the blurring of boundaries? Are we adapting to it? Are we embracing it quicker or slower than other nations?
 
Jon Grant  
That's a good question. East Asia is pushing hard, I think Middle East is behind a little bit but the boom there in terms of development is forcing them into considering change. I would say London specifically is interesting, because I think the workplace shift will happen quicker here because there's so much real estate. And the way people are thinking about working, you're driving that change fairly quickly. For example, now, I came to the office on Friday, and the whole city is dead. So, what are people going to do with all this real estate on Fridays? I’ve noticed some chains strategically closing on Fridays. There's a lot of places that are just going to close on Fridays, so your working weeks are going to be Monday to Thursday. So, what happens in the city from Friday to Sunday? It's an interesting observation and no one knows what the right answer is because I think people are still figuring out what they're going to do. F&B has shifted, retail is going to be shifting, hotels will change because how are they going to get people coming to the city with travel restrictions at the moment? But what happens after that? And that's why I think the hotels are going to welcome more to local communities to pick up on the lost revenue and footfall again. And that's why I think this driving of blurred boundaries is going to continue to reshape the different sectors we're working in.
 
David Taylor  
Lastly, are you optimistic about London this year and going forward?
 
Jon Grant  
Very. Yeah, very. But I think The UK is a much more risk averse place. I think it might take a little bit longer to get the wheels turning but what we're seeing in other markets - China is still pushing ahead, Middle East still pressing ahead, certain countries in Asia are still driving and India is another place seeing a lot more activity. So, I think London, because it's so costly to do anything here, I think people are being a bit more strategic and taking a bit more time to make decisions because it's still a little bit in flux.
 
David Taylor  
Magic. Thanks, John. I look forward to having a more seamless experience in an airport near me soon! Or not near me!
 
Jon Grant  
Yeah, well, they're not the best places, are they?
 
David Taylor  
No. Brilliant. Thanks!
 
Jon Grant  
Cheers. Bye.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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