DESIGN POD: interior designer Neil Andrew on net-zero hotel design

On the latest episode of DESIGN POD, listen to Neil Andrew, Head of Hospitality at Perkins&Will, talk openly and honestly about the studio’s journey and approach towards net-zero hotel design…

Collage of Neil Andrew from Perkins&Will

Neil Andrew is unlike any other designer I know. His perception of hotel design is, perhaps, inspired by his love of music – he recently described that projects are like a jazz bands. This reason, and many more, he is arguably the perfect person to, without ego, encourage the industry to change their approach towards net-zero hotel design.

For Andrew and Perkins&Will, the interior design studio that announced a few years ago that it would be net-zero in all projects (embodied carbon) by 2030, change is the only option after making bold sustainability claims. But it has to happen collectively with the entire industry on the same side to reach a common goal.

Listen to the full episode of the podcast below:

On episode 33 of DESIGN POD, sponsored by Geberit and produced by Mel Yates, I invited the interior designer to talk to me openly about how the journey towards net-zero was going in the hotel design arena. I wanted to remove the barrier of heavy KPIs and PR talk to just speak to Andrew as I would any other time to hear about the honest challenges and opportunities that have emerged since the studio set out to achieve its ambitious pledge. “To be honest, I have always tried to approach design sustainably,” Andrew told me on the podcast. “If we are talking about trying to use local materials, it’s always been the sensible thing to do.

“One important thing we have tried to do here was to design a hotel room where you wouldn’t look at it and necessarily see that it is full of sustainably sourced materials and objects.”

What speaks louder to the industry over making statements of intent is action. In 2020, Andrew and his team designed a set for the then Sleep & Eat conference. The brief was to look at tomorrow’s sustainability landscape to design a room that answered to future traveller demands.

After receiving a strong, positive reaction from the interior design community who understood deeply the design language of the installation, Andrew caught the interest of Accor and other operators. “We have developed this concept since, to the point where we are tweaking this project to a live brief,” he explained. “If you are ever going to have the opportunity design a prototype room, then May – June, 2020, was probably the best time to do it because we were all talking about how things are going to change so much post-pandemic.”

The room that Andrew and his tribe created was a fully flexible suite that incorporated immersive wellness initiatives and multi-sensory design. In addition to circadian lighting, the suite featured automated aromatherapy as well. “We tried to design on multiple levels,” he added. “The original concept had 3D printed bio plastic walls. The reality is that a lot of what we introduced is not yet ready for market, but some of it has and we have evolved it into a version that will hopefully be built.”

All of this and more is why Perkins&Will was awarded The Eco Award at The Brit List Awards 2022. For all the many obstacles that the industry faces to level up and become net-zero, the hotel design community is not in need of another hero – and what I love about Andrew is that he is, in many ways, the anti-hero – not a lover of the spotlight, and at every opportunity is championing his team.

Naturally, to measure success and milestones along the journey, having an end goal – in this case being net-zero in all projects by 2030 –is helpful. But I would argue that the focus on whether they and other studios success should not be on the data, but instead on the environmental and social difference made through a change of mindset.

The Full 60-minute podcast episode is available to listen to on all major podcast platforms – just search ‘DESIGN POD’ wherever you get your podcasts. The next and final episode of series four, an interview with John Williams, Founder and Creative Director of SpaceInvader, will go live on June 7. 

Main image credit: Perkins&Will