Fiona Nixon, director of Studio NVS, has had extensive experience in designing for the hospitality industry. With the Covid-19 global pandemic hitting hard, the meaning of designing for this industry has now transformed.

What is your design ethos?

We (Nixon and Kristian van Schaik, who is also a director of the firm) have both lived in Singapore for decades and we saw his relocation to Hong Kong as an opportunity to expand our market. He’s responsible for our work in China, and I’m working pretty much across the equator from East to West, Arabia to Australia, in a way, but with Singapore right in the centre. Our specialisation is hospitality design. We both worked in different periods at Kerry Hill Architects, one of the real trailblazers in hotel architecture, designing from Singapore and building a family of projects for the [luxury] Aman Resorts that really defined what a resort was globally. 

Amanwella Villas, Sri Lanka; Pic by: Atelier Lim and Tan

So we’re working from a base of that experience and knowledge. My approach has now coalesced into three words: peace, place and grace. Peace captures the intent to create spaces that are calm, or harmonious, for the people who live or stay there. Place, a sensitivity to context, whether culturally or environmentally. And grace the support of a reflective and caring way of life. So whether peace, place and grace applies to a home or resort, these are terms I use to clarify my thinking about a space’s atmosphere, how the building occupies its place and how it enables people to lead a gracious life.

Leighton Apartments: Kerry Hill Architects; Developer: Mirvac

We’re trying to create evocative places, ethically delivered, which helps us frame responses to the environment and the culture. Much of our work is overseas, so we try to learn all that we can about the locations where we’re designing. We’re not from there, we don’t live there, so we have to really listen and engage with the locals to recognise what is appropriate for them. That communication extends to our hotel operators to understand what’s effective so that they can create value for their owners. And our interactive style applies to residential clients too.

Australian Wildlife Centre Healesville Sanctuary, Australia ; Pic by: Minifie Nixon Architects

Studio NVS is a recent merger of your practices, I believe. What are some of the projects you’ve worked on in the past, any future projects coming up?

We are focused on hospitality projects; and the travel industry is obviously in a bit of a lull at the moment. Our clients are using this opportunity to revitalise their properties, to redevelop underperforming assets and to get a head start on new projects. China’s already bounced back. We have two hotels underway in Dali in Yunnan, both in the old town near the three pagodas. One’s small, a two-storey building embedded in the ancient townscape. And the other is more resort-like, further up the mountain. So one will provide the other with facilities, and they’ll have different character, but together they will be one stop on a new route around the province. 

An influence we saw before the pandemic, and we’ll be seeing with a different driver when we’re allowed out again, is “flight shame” – traveller’s increasing concern about the environment and thinking about how they can leave less of an environmental impact when holidaying. It will lead to longer, slower trips, fewer flights. Travelling around a route and staying for a couple of nights at each stop. Using land transport, whether it’s a car, ideally electric, or even a train, to visit and dwell in these diverse but connected places.

What are the trends you see coming up in hospitality design?

We’re seeing resorts getting more residential, like clusters of large homes, each potentially a small hotel within a hotel. The desire for privacy is increasing. For the past 10 years, whether it’s in resort design, home design or workplace design, the focus has been bringing people together; enabling community and “creative collisions”, but now it’s more about letting people have personal space that they can be effective in, whether working remotely or sheltering in style. 

Millennium Hilton Bangkok, Thailand (Minifie Nixon Architects)

So the lobby ‘great room’, centralised restaurant clusters, the expansive resort pool, these may become more atomised, more intimate. Guest suites and villas will become larger and have more private amenities. Scale will reduce but experiences will be diversified. At the luxury end these trends were emerging anyway, but post-pandemic they will accelerate. Singapore is ideally placed to engage this movement as we have the multi-generation bungalow as a well-studied model. Residential and resort design will creatively inform each other.