Champalimaud was founded by Alexandra Champalimaud in Montreal, Canada, in 1981. Born and raised in Portugal, Champalimaud was educated in England and Switzerland and completed her design training at the Espirito Santo Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal.
Champalimaud quickly built a reputation for luxurious, classic hospitality design; the firm’s work can be seen inside hotels including The Waldorf Astoria, Hotel Bel-Air and the Gainsborough Bath Spa.
Ed Bakos joined Champalimaud in December 2012 as managing director. Before joining Champalimaud, Bakos was responsible for projects including the first W Hotel, the Belvedere Hotel in Mykonos, the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Marina Bay Sands Project in Singapore.
Here Bakos talks about Champalimaud’s recent and ongoing projects, including the New York hotel that’s hosted Martin Luther King Jr and Ralph Waldo Emmerson,and a London hotel inspired by the Bloomsbury Set.
What unites Champalimaud’s projects?
The common thread is the point of view we bring about how one lives – it touches each of our projects in a different way based on the places in which we work.
Sustainability has always been central to your work. Why is this so important to the practice?
For us, sustainability isn’t only about being mindful with our resources and making sure our projects are smart and up to code, it’s about creating impactful spaces that stand the test of time. Construction is one of the largest generators of landfill waste, so it’s important to create spaces that transcend trends.
How does your determination to be sustainable translate to your work?
While we incorporate best practices into our work and many of our projects have achieved LEED certification, I think a meaningful approach to sustainability has to rise above a checklist approach. Reusing buildings, programming them well and designing them so they have a soul is the ultimate act of sustainability.
The last three projects we worked on with YTL (The Gainsborough, The Academy, and Monkey Island Inn) were complex renovations of listed heritage buildings. We had to keep construction and construction waste to a minimum. It was through these projects and others that we learned that sustainable design can take many forms and doesn’t have to be explored through conventional definitions.
How do you balance the need for your projects to be sustainable with the luxury aesthetic you’re known for?
Ideas and concepts around sustainability have come a long way. Over the past years, we’ve noticed that our manufacturing partners have adopted sustainable practices and are producing healthier products. We’ve become more aware, creative, and smarter but this cannot be understood as a substitution for inspired design. No one should feel they have to sacrifice an elevated aesthetic in the name of sustainability.
Do architects and designers have a responsibility to move the green agenda onwards?
Of course! Construction and demolition account for most of the world’s waste being produced. It’s our duty to be more responsible with our projects and resources so that we can reduce our impact.
You’re working on the renovation of Raffles Hotel Singapore. What does that project mean to you?
It’s a dream project. Raffles Hotel resonates deeply with everyone who’s ever seen it. It’s the hotel of all hotels! I can’t begin to tell you how honoured we are to be a part of this project.
What was the brief?
The brief was simple. Raffles is a landmark hotel imbued with a lot of memories and a lot of history, but it didn’t address the needs of today’s travellers. We were asked to update parts of the experience that were lacking while acknowledging and embracing Raffles’ roots.
The most interesting part for me is that this has meant restoring the emotional and social heritage of the place as well as the fabric of the building itself. Through innovative programming and smart planning we’re re-introducing memorable and unique experiences that honour the spirit of Raffles.
What’s the biggest challenge of that project?
When you’re working on an iconic hotel and especially within a listed heritage site there will always be hurdles. Issues are uncovered during construction, plans evolve.
Projects like these are complex collaborations with government agencies, partner firms, owners and operators, each of whom have important considerations to be accommodated. Our role is to advocate for the soul and vision of the project as we work through the issues that emerge day to day.
How did you approach the project?
It’s a process that started with a deep dive into the history of the hotel. We looked at the people that passed through it, the events that occurred there, the social and cultural influence the hotel has had within the community as well as the emotional impact the project has on those who’ve stayed there. We worked very hard to understand the soul of Raffles and we are using our discoveries to drive the narrative of the project.
While I can’t share the details with you, I can say that there are many special moments and design features – both old and new. In the guestrooms we have retained the tripartite arrangement of spaces as this is quite distinctive. We have also incorporated some wonderful new touchpoints that range from integrated technology down to the tactile detail of the things you touch and feel.
You recently completed the Troutbeck hotel in upstate New York. What was your aim with this project?
It’s a project that was very important to the studio because our client, Anthony, is the son of our founder, Alexandra.
Troutbeck had an amazing history as a place of intellectual and social discourse in New York’s Hudson Valley yet had fallen into a state of disrepair and abandonment. Some of the world’s most influential thought leaders have passed through its doors: Martin Luther King Jr, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Langston Hughes, John Boroughs and a myriad of others.
Inaugural moments of US history happened there, including the founding of the NAACP. We saw the opportunity to re-create a modern day ‘salon’, and worked to engineer social spaces that would be relaxed and approachable in support of this goal.
How would you sum up the design of Troutbeck?
Troutbeck is a quiet and romantic place and part of its charm is its simplicity and absence of pretense. We worked to retain and highlight the historic aspects of the original home while introducing an element of contemporary living. There’s an ease to it all.
We’re really proud of how well this project has been received by guests as well as by the local community.
You recently refurbished The Academy hotel in London for YTL. What was special about this project?
Structurally and visually The Academy has a lot of personality. The property is situated in the heart of Bloomsbury – a neighbourhood where centuries of literary creatives have made their mark and wrote some of the most profound pieces of literature in the world.
Their stories resonated with us and inspired some of the design direction for the social spaces of the hotel. There’s also a distinct Englishness to the interior architecture that adds to the charm of the property. The hotel is composed of five listed Georgian townhomes, which for legal reasons we were not able to alter too much. This resulted in the hotel’s architectural core turning into a rabbit warren of rooms connected to one another.
Was the design influenced by the Bloomsbury Set history?
Yes. However, inspiration is more of a subtle nod than a grand gesture. We wanted the connection to this group of luminaries to not be superficial and thought it best to create a deeper point of engagement with their impact on the area and in history. For example, we wanted to create activated social spaces like The Alchemy Bar and Garden where guests and locals could relax but also feel inspired to have rich and enlightening exchanges like those that might have happened between the Bloomsbury Set.
There are hundreds of books throughout the hotel by or published by authors or publishing companies based in Bloomsbury.
What else are you working on?
We’re working on a collection of really wonderful projects including a Premium Lounge for the new airport in Bahrain. The design we have developed is an exploration of the idea of travel and discovery expressed through traditional Bahraini hospitality that reveals itself through an enfilade of wonderful rooms filled with great offerings.
We are also currently working on a pair of wonderful resorts in Waikiki and Okinawa as well as a precious little hotel on the Monkey Island Estate on the Thames river outside London – our fourth project with YTL Hotels.
In addition, we are completing a few private homes as well as a number of multifamily residential buildings in places like Fischer Island, Hong Kong, and Manhattan that are each quite special.
Do you have a personal favourite project that you’ve worked on?
Raffles Singapore. It’s a dream project.
What makes a great hotel?
It’s all about the details. I find that the places where I’ve stayed and have had the most memorable experiences are the ones where every detail has been considered.
From the design, to how the bed was made, to the customer service – that all informs what makes a great hotel for me.
Do you have a dream future project?
A hotel on Lake Como.
Where is your favourite place on earth?
Italy. All of it. Earlier in my life I had the great pleasure of teaching architecture in Rome, where I lived and worked for two years. Every day was an inspiration and I love to go back.