Design as a Differentiator

January 18, 2017 / Mason Paoli

And what it means for hospitality

Think of a space – a museum, a restaurant, a home – you’ve visited recently that struck a chord with you. What made it memorable? People develop connections with places that evoke emotion and inspire us.

The truth is that even the most beautiful and well-executed spaces may not make a lasting impression. Designing a space that connects beyond the physical environment is not an easy feat, but is crucial in the business of creating destinations that people will return to again and again.

At Populous, we pride ourselves on weaving together details that speak to the soul of a place and its surrounding community. We unearth insights by approaching design challenges with curiosity and a collaborative spirit. We dig deep to uncover meaning before the design work even begins.

Sure, we know about trends, but our goal is to uncover the elements within the design story that differentiate this solution from the competition.

For SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves opening in April, we immersed ourselves in the regional culture very early in the process. By touring a diverse range of neighborhoods and districts we were able to peel back layers of history and uncover a hospitality style defined by equal parts comfort and cosmopolitan. We learned southern hospitality has evolved with the times but is still integral to every experience involving a guest and a host.

Wine lockers at SunTrust Park

One example of this at SunTrust Park lies in a unique wood species we noticed throughout the region: Pecky cypress. A design staple in both residential and hospitality spaces, we graze light across its trademark deep grooves for subtle dramatic effect in hospitality spaces throughout the ballpark, from rustic wood beams in suites to custom wine lockers like those pictured above.

Our investigative approach to research allows us to bypass fads in favor of crafting more meaningful design. Understanding a place, its people and its culture centers every decision around a touchpoint that’s relatable to locals and remarkable to visitors.

No project is without practical considerations, however. Another essential piece of our process involves a whole lot of listening to understand the many stakeholders invested in a project and their very real needs.

This fusion of the practical and creative is our sweet spot.

We practice a special kind of hospitality design at Populous thanks to the scale and complexity of many of our projects. Stadiums, convention centers and similar structures have a myriad of stakeholders and guests.

Designing for all of them requires a delicate balance. This fusion of the practical and creative is our sweet spot – it’s what helps us craft a unique destination that makes our clients’ lives easier and makes their guests want to come back. At its core, hospitality is creating comfort, a sense of welcome, and making someone feel at home.

We also design with the aim of going beyond baseline functionality to create spaces that blur the boundary between inside and outside. At SunTrust Park, a microbrewery sits within the ballpark boundaries but is intentionally positioned to connect the ballpark experience to an entertainment plaza. We also connect the brewery vertically to a playful rooftop experience with views of both the field and the plaza. The result is a series of diverse but connected hospitality destinations.

The process all started with accepting the fact no place exists in a vacuum. The hospitality venues that play well with their neighbors, that radiate energy outward, are the ones people adore. It doesn’t matter whether the space exists in a ballpark, a hotel, a convention center or an arena.

What challenges are you facing in your hospitality design? Let us know via email or the comments below to get the dialogue started.


Meet the author

Mason Paoli

Principal, Interior Design Director – Kansas City / Kansas City


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