A restored country house estate in the Hudson Valley, an island hideaway in the Caribbean and a recording studio with rooms on Santa Monica Boulevard were amongst the winners of this year’s AHEAD Americas, as the region’s new hotels went head-to-head to be named best-in-category. Taking place at Miami’s Faena Forum, the ceremony attracted owners, operators, architects and designers from all corners of the region, with the night hosted by Sleeper’s Editor-at-Large Guy Dittrich and supported by Global Founder Sponsor Grohe.
The evening’s tropical theme saw the Rem Koolhaus-designed amphitheatre decked out in verdant palms and foliage along with hammocks and parasols supplied by Tuuci, while guests dressed to impress in bold botanical prints.
Winners were announced by AHEAD’s loyal sponsors, having undergone a rigorous judging process that involved an initial round of online voting to determine the shortlist, before the judges met in New York for a full day of deliberations. Speaking on stage, Aliya Khan, Vice President of Design Strategies for Marriott International and chair of the panel, summed up proceedings: “Judging these awards is always a good day; the discussions are animated, and the commentary enlightening. This year was no exception. The one thing that continued to be a talking point is the need for authenticity in design. Good design is everywhere, but authentic, meaningful experiences that tell a thoughtful story of a destination are the genuine separator between the good and the exceptional.” She concluded: “It was also an opportunity to remind us that design isn’t just a collection of cool furniture, but about so many other elements, from the relationship of architecture to the site, the landscaping and the ability to transition from day to night, down to the finest details of collateral and finishes. More importantly none of the criteria is about how much money was spent, but how it was spent.”
And the money was indeed well spent across the projects that emerged triumphant. Taking home awards for Guestrooms and Event Spaces, Gold Diggers in LA was praised for its brave approach and alternative design scheme, while Troutbeck, by Champalimaud Design, won over the panel for remaining true to its roots. Solaz Los Cabos in Mexico impressed in the Newbuild and Landscaping categories thanks to its purist architecture and relationship with its surroundings, while Belmond Cap Juluca in Anguilla was lauded for its preservation and redesign achievements following substantial hurricane damage.
In the special award categories, David Rockwell was named recipient of the Outstanding Contribution accolade thanks to his creative vision and game-changing projects across the region and beyond. Amongst his achievements, the designer has enjoyed a 20-year partnership with Nobu Hospitality, creating the first Nobu Hotel and a number of the group’s restaurants; he was responsible for the first W Hotel back in 1999; collaborated with Ian Schrager on The New York Edition; and recently completed Moxy Chelsea and its rooftop bar, The Fleur Room, which was one of the night’s winners. Rockwell and his team have also played a major role in Related Group’s Hudson Yards development, having designed both the residences and Equinox Hotel. Presenting the award, Jorge Perez, Chairman and CEO of Related Group, commented: “Whenever we need a highly creative designer, David and his group are our first choice. He’s designed 64 Broadway and off-Broadway show sets, 275 restaurants, 96 hotels and innumerable residential and office buildings. In addition to countless design awards, David received the most prestigious award from the American Institute of Architects, and is the only architect to win both a Tony and an Emmy. This man is incredible.”
The award was collected on stage by Rockwell Group Studio Leader Richard Chandler, while Rockwell himself accepted via video. “We’re thrilled to have received the Outstanding Contribution award from AHEAD,” he noted. “Rockwell Group has been lucky enough over the last 35 years to combine an interest and passion in designing for performance in the theatre and for hospitality. In every project, we develop and invent a story or a narrative that means no design decision is arbitrary. There’s not a good chair or a bad chair, there’s a chair that helps tell the story.”
The final award of the night, The AHEAD Americas Hotel of the Year, went to The Siren Hotel in Detroit, which was praised by the judging panel for bringing old-school glamour to a historic building. Accepting the award on stage, Ari Heckman, founding partner and CEO of Ash NY – the design and development firm behind the property – commented: “Hotels take large teams and many years to build, so this is a tribute to everyone who works with us, from construction workers, labourers, designers and guest service agents to the teams around the country that bring our hospitality vision to life. Thank you all.”