The Big Interview: Stephen Albert, Director of Architecture, SB Architects

Stephen Albert of SB Architects sits down with our editor Richard Frost to talk about how his role has changed in the wake of Covid and his commitment to sustainable design.

Founded in 1960, Miami-based architectural firm SB Architects is known for its involvement in high profile hotel projects such as The St Regis Longboat Key Resort and Residences in the Florida resort of Sarasota, Pendry Park City in Utah and Amara near the Cypriot city. from Limassol. London-based architectural director Stephen Albert joined the firm in early 2020, having held the same position at Blink Design Group in Asia – before that he spent nearly 25 years working his way up the ranks of WATG, based in Honolulu.

Can you tell me about your role within SB Architects?

I joined SB Architects in early 2020 but by the time I arrived in Miami in March everything was starting to lock down and close due to Covid so I moved back to London. And SB Architects said ‘look, just ahead of us in London instead’.

I’m happy to stay and operate from London now, rather than the US. We have a lot of work in Europe – not so much in the UK yet, but we would like to change that. And we are really establishing our presence in London to support the European market, the Middle East, Africa and everywhere else that wants to work with us.

How has SB Architects faced the challenges of recent years?

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen due to the economic climate with Covid, but actually we were busy the whole time.

Although many projects have not progressed as fast as we originally thought, many potential projects have emerged. We’ve done some concept work to advance them.

How is hotel design changing following Covid?

The idea of ​​biophilic design is even more important now because people want to feel healthy.

While the idea of ​​living indoors and outdoors has always been key to resort experiences, we see it increasingly in urban environments. In London, for example, everyone is desperately trying to find outdoor space. Before, people just stayed indoors – unlike the rest of Europe, which has always been much better at embracing the al fresco concept.

Do hotels have the opportunity to take advantage of the rapid rise in remote working?

Yes quite. I’ve been to a few conferences recently and one of the things that keeps coming up is the idea of ​​workcations.

For example, you can work at a nice resort, but go take a dip in the pool for half an hour to refresh, recharge and clear your mind a bit, then take out your laptop and go back to work in a coworking as part of a lobby experience. You are far from your normal lifestyle, but you are still able to function, albeit in an inspiring place.

We’ve all realized how easy it can be to work remotely – you don’t have to be in an office all the time.

How important is sustainable design to you personally?

I think every designer, regardless of their discipline, needs to be responsible for thinking about sustainability – it’s becoming more and more critical.

The hospitality industry is actually responsible for over 1% of carbon emissions. So we have to put the brakes on that and do our part to stop global warming because we are very close to all of these tipping points. We must do our best to prevent these planetary systems from breaking down and collapsing, which would be a disaster.

How can hotel designers help create net zero projects?

To some degree, every development has an impact on carbon emissions, but we can minimize it by designing responsibly. Understanding how a hotel works is essential – many designers will say they can design anything from a hotel to a museum or an airport, but if they don’t understand the operational side they will create something of ineffective.

Then in terms of materials, obviously that’s key to what we as designers specify. I’m very interested in new materials like crustacean chitin, insects and spider silk. We can also source materials locally and avoid solar gain by having good cantilevered glazing.

How can modular design play a role?

The modular design is interesting.

We are seeing more and more hotels designed this way due to the high degree of quality control you get from the factories. And also because they are quick to assemble on the spot.

How do you decide which design companies to bring in projects?

A lot of my career was in London before going to Hawaii, so I still have a lot of contacts there. And I’ll automatically turn to the design teams I’ve most enjoyed working with in the past.

Additionally, new design ventures have sprung up while I’ve been away, and a number of them involve former WATG members who have gone on to start their own businesses. Like Suited Interior Design, with Shelley Reiner at the helm, who does a great job.

I guess a lot of it is about relationships, being confident that they’re going to come up with a good design, and knowing that they’ll be the right fit for the kind of project I’m working on.

What advice would you give to the next generation of hotel designers?

If it is a student who wants to get into hotel design, he must be passionate about this type of building.

They also need to think about the experience they are going to create, because delivering a great resort is not just about providing a great building or a good night’s sleep. If guests enjoy the experience, they will spend more time at the resort.

Delivering that experience and ensuring customers have a truly positive time is key.

Comments are closed.