Design Crime: New Luxury Hotel Is a Five-Star Disaster Shelter

Slumming it never felt so rich.

Radical Innovation Disaster

Move over, Four Seasons! A new building concept takes its design cues from ad hoc disaster shelters and can transform into just about anything including yes, a swanky hotel! Like you're slumming it, but with turndown service!

The designers, WATG, call it pop-up hospitality. You know, like pop-up shops, pop-up cafes, and, of course, pop-up relief shelters. Modular units, which they say resemble prisms (and we say resemble melting ice cubes), are pre-fabricated with plumbing, lighting fixtures, and furnishings, so you can throw them up in a snap. Then, you can configure them any which way: as spas, salons, guestrooms, mini-homes, restaurants, bars, tented villas, you name it! If a rich person wants it, they can do it!


WATG design

resort resized

WATG -- the same firm that gave the world the Venetian and Dubai's Atlantis at the Palm -- says their new concept is especially well-suited to "adventure travel and 'voluntourism.'" We can picture the trip brochure now: Ever wanted to visit a squalid orphanage in Cambodia? Teach English to illiterate adults in Sierra Leone? Build straw huts with your bare hands in Kenya? Now you can, in five-star comfort! (WATG assures us that the units can be be redeployed as housing once the tourists have cleared out. That's assuming locals want to live in it.)

WATG design

Mosaic PATHWAY won the Radical Innovation in Hospitality award recently, which just goes to show how tone-deaf the hospitality industry can be. Disaster shelters are portable, temporary, and easy-to-assemble because they have to be; they're life-and-death accessories. Appropriated for the tourism industry, they're just shtick -- pretty objects that come dangerously close to aestheticizing disaster itself. Lord knows we don't need any more of that.

Then again, that's the lay of the land in tourism country. Hell, you could argue that Hawaii is one big tourist-friendly tragedy adventure park. Mosaic has the benefit of a small environmental footprint. And if it's as flexible and as simple as the designers say, it has real potential in emergency situations. But as a shiny addendum to the luxury hotel industry? That's just disaster porn. We'd rather stay at a Best Western.

Radical Innovation food unit

[Images courtesy of WATG]

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