A sense of experience in design, vision, luxury: touchpoint management

“Architecture has been…presumably practical, economic executions of so many square feet of floor with lots of machinery… very little for the whole human being – places where one can work until one can get out – when they should be places where one would like to stay and work better and more. Architecture being involved with everything is like life itself when it is real Architecture – alive, fresh, exhilarating – yet solid and enduring.”
John Lautner

I had an experience once, in working on the brand development of The Disney Institute [http://www.disneyinstitute.com/index.cfm]. It’s a kind of Disney University for consumers and business professionals. My work there started as a branding, strategy and identity project with a friend of mine from NYC, then Tokyo — Bette Zaret [http://center.spoke.com/info/pmNBYh/BetteZaret]. Bette and I worked with Richard Hutton [http://www.vulcanproductions.com/] on building out the opening brand positioning, identity, visualizations and expressions for the Disney Institute, solidifying the dreams and visions of Michael Eisner.

It was about telling a complex story in manifold directions, that ranged from striking interiors to compelling architecture, from lively print to branded merchandising, from room amenities and collateral to signage design. But what happened after that was interesting.

I was giving a talk for a conference in San Diego on branding experiences, about a decade ago. And I talked about the work that we did at the Disney Institute. After that talk, a woman came to me and said: “I was just there — at the Institute — and there was something that happened — while it wasn’t obvious, it permeated my connection there. It was like there was a feeling, like everything was touched — from when I came in, being treated as a guest, getting to my room from the lobby reception, being in the room, everything just kind of synched together — it was like there was a feeling that everything matched up in expectation — all of the details were thought through. It wasn’t obvious, but now that you presented the ideas here, the work that you did there — it all just fit together. Everything was cohesive; it was just right“.

Integration. That’s what it’s all about.
What’s the story, how do you tell it, how is it experienced — and who cares?

But what I’m exploring is the idea of stepping further, beyond that, to another level of experience management — architectural vision, expressions in sensuality and the management — the care of — people. So I offer a bridge: a visionary architect — John Lautner, Acapulco, and a resort.

Here is that leap: Los Angeles, architecture, Acapulco, resort experience design.

John Lautner’s work, his progressive design evolution — even as far-fetched as some might place it — is an example of the caring of people, the sensate influence — in making place.

The Arango residence, Las Brisas, Acapulco, Mexico

What about him?

Lautner was born in Marquette, Michigan. In the 1930’s he was a student apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Taliesin Fellowship for six years for his opening architectural training, along with other great artists and architects like E. Fay Jones, Paolo Soleri and Santiago Martinez Delgado. Lautner could be described as perhaps the most successful of Taliesin graduates. His work is a sequence of designs that involve a sense of the person, natural settings and the reflection between these elements.

Some experiments, some explorations, some visualizations:

The Chemosphere House:

The Chemosphere house has become a Los Angeles landmark that conveys both hope and folly. The opening design was just that — an experiment, utilizing special technology to showcase structural technology and adhesion. It became, in a way, a kind of exemplar of Lautner’s design thinking.

Visionary, futurist, dramatic and still focused on maximizing human experience in a unique way. In 2000 German publisher Benedikt Taschen purchased and restored the house with architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena. Other residential expressions followed that link of human and place alignments.

The Elrod Residence, Palm Desert

For Lautner, following some lean years in the 1950s and 1960s, he enjoyed something of a resurgence with his poured-concrete houses in the 1970s, notably the Bob Hope Residence and other houses in Palm Springs. His other project, that embraces Wrightian design ethos, but places to a more commercial sensibility of experience design is his Desert Springs project — refurbished in 2001.

What I find intriguing is the idea of creating space which is inherently dramatic, yet sensual and humanly connected. These characteristics, as well, lend themselves to the sensitivities of resorts — and more luxurious gestures in designed living.

The Arango and Mar Brisas residences, Brisas, Acapulco

Nicolai Ouroussoff [http://www.nytimes.com/laut.html] notes some added insights to the character of the work of Lautner’s legacy. His review of the current show of Lautner’s work at the Hammer Galleries in Los Angeles, gestures to his motion picture “set design styling” legacy, yet settles to comment on the curatorial strategy to “counter his longstanding image as an architect who succumbed to Hollywood gaudiness and glamour. What we glean instead is a keen structural knowledge wedded to an environmental sensitivity — a seamless bond of nature, space and humankind.

And this is the realm that, for me, what bridges the work, the character of architecture and experience, and the detail as to how these elements intertwine. Like other Latin American sensualist designers, “the work of the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, his buildings take their cues from their natural settings to such an extent that they are unimaginable elsewhere.” And, the closing gesture editorial perspective is perhaps the most telling, to the alignments I’m exploring: “the mythic themes of Los Angeles architecture: freedom from convention, stunning surroundings, the fleeting nature of man’s imprint on the landscape. It also underscores Lautner’s intellectual breadth. His work is never a mere sculptural exercise; it always starts with an intimate understanding of the site, which prevents him from slipping into self-indulgence. That spirit of empathy, of context, unites all great architecture.”

What then, to Las Brisas? For one, it’s just across the valley, up the hill from these properties noted above in Acapulco. And, conceptually, it’s the same dreaming — at least to this line of exploration. Extraordinary siting, fabulously sensual design — and integrations of exquisite messaging to the spirit of place, making a sensate bond of emotional connection.

While rather whimsical in connective brand identity and experience management, there is a spirit that runs from the opening identity representation, through the streets, the buildings, the alphabet, the experience — there’s a felt tinge (and tint) that begins, literally, in the beginning…

The signing

The Las Brisas alphabet

The view, the roof

The interiors

Architecture and signing


Details, details:

While it might seem a kind of jump, to the work of Lautner and the architecture of Las Brisas brand management, there is a proximity that is aligned — that is, experience design. Thinking of place and connection to emotional memory, considering the details of site, evocation of land and nature, a returning sensation of personal image in “being in a place” and the melding of how that sense is “managed”, make these collations relevant, even vibrant, for reflection of context.

What’s your take, from the field?

tsg | acapulco, seattle

Photos by Joshua White, the Hammer Museum, The Lautner Foundation and Sara Sackner, The New York Times ©2008