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

The designers, WATG, call it pop-up hospitality. You
know, like pop-up shops,
pop-up cafes, and, of course, pop-up relief
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


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.

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]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D