Q&A - Adrian Manea and Elena Kella

Adrian Manea and Elena Kella, founders of architecture and design studio Manea Kella, on the ‘ongoing conversation’ of the creative process, and why a sense of place is a vital component of any hotel design scheme

Words by Toby Maxwell

What are some of the key elements in creating spaces that move beyond being purely functional to become more ‘experiential’ for the user?

Adrian Manea: We believe that a holistic approach to design is required in order to create the most successful projects – whether this is within commercial or hospitality sectors. In the latter sector, hospitality experiences have the potential to offer guests more than just simple accommodation. We have found that guests are looking for different experiences that create memories that will stay.

Adrian Manea
Adrian Manea

Experiential design is all about placing the guest first and creating a truly engaging experience that will bring them back time and time again. In the case of hotels this could mean creating a thoughtful sequence of restful spaces, using carefully considered materials combined with intelligent use of natural and artificial light. There is an opportunity to create charm while balancing it with the contemporary needs of guests. Quality design and a personalised service work together to shape the guest experience.

How does the creative process typically work between you and your clients? Has this client/design relationship become more collaborative over the years?

Elena Kella: The creative process is an ongoing conversation. None of our projects are approached with a predetermined agenda. We enjoy turning our client’s ideas and aspirations into built projects. We are here to listen, learn and work together in order to achieve success. The key aim of the client and architect relationship is to work together to share and champion the project vision from concept to completion. Denys Lasdun once said ‘our job as architects is to give the client, on time and on cost, not what they want but what they never dreamed they wanted and, when they get it, they recognise it as something that they wanted all the time’.

In what ways have the events of the past 18 months moved the goalposts for some of the fundamental principles of hotel design? What will hotel design look like post-Covid?

AM: Our main consideration when it comes to post-pandemic hotel design is a rethink of what is important – safety, comfort and wellbeing. These principles are critical in the future together with the need to consider sustainability. Considerations of local identity and sense of place go hand in hand with our belief of creating sustainable places. We understand that social sustainability is at the core of this, and seek to create places that are well planned, well built, that convey a strong sense of wellbeing.

The hotel’s design combines characterful original features with modern touches. Image Credit: COSMIN DRAGOMIR
The hotel’s design combines characterful original features with modern touches. Image Credit: COSMIN DRAGOMIR

What role can architects and designers play in helping clients develop new ways of doing business in the years to come?

Elena Kella
Elena Kella

EK: We find that understanding the business, its people and the challenges they face to be a fascinating process – writing the project brief together with the client is very exciting. We tend to build relationships with both our private and corporate clients in equal measure – building relationships with the latter involves engaging not only with the chief executive but also with those that make up the organisation, in order to understand it better.

Please tell us about a recent project that has utilised new ideas, new technology or innovative creative thinking.

AM: Since establishing our practice in 2017, we have embedded thoughtful design and sustainability at the core of our practice. Whenever possible, we always think first and foremost about reusing, be it reusing material to reusing structure. We value high-quality materials and our love for craft informs our approach.

At Casa Popeea [in Romania], we transformed a dilapidated building into an 11-room boutique hotel, delivering high-quality facilities that enhance the experience for guests and members of the public. We balanced practical solutions with a concerted effort to create a boutique hotel that provides not just comfort and security but character and charm, a place that speaks to both its historical context and contemporary city life.

Our approach to projects always involves exploring volume, light and a sense of space. This influences the aesthetic of our projects and we tend to value simple, high-quality, often natural materials. We believe that architecture can be rich in character and distinct in identity while also addressing both social and environmental concerns. We advocate drawing from local traditions in construction and vernacular architecture. In addition to the selection of low-embodied carbon materials and the integration of renewable strategies, we strive to harness the natural attributes of a project’s surroundings. maneakella.com

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