Passing the Torch

Rebecca Lo and Jennifer Young • May 25, 2018

Photos: Recent Projects

It’s not unheard of for firms to shutter after the loss of a leader, with many not able to live beyond the projects already planned or underway. Moving on can be a challenging process for a number of reasons and difficult even in the simplest of circumstances. Still, there are those finding a new strength to continue the firm’s work and rising to honor their predecessors. Take Pritzker-winning Zaha Hadid, whose London firm was known for its avant-garde aesthetic and exquisite skyscrapers that helped reshape architecture in the modern age. At the time of her unexpected death in 2016, her portfolio was massive, with 36 projects in 21 countries, leaving Patrik Schumacher to lead the firm into the post-Hadid era, while still respecting her very distinct style. Shumacher, who had been Hadid’s righthand man for nearly three decades and is the co-creator of some of her most well-known buildings, has since established a strategic alliance with Arc and Wilson Associates to become a one-stop shop for architectural, engineering, and interior design solutions. But the firm continues to bring Hadid’s signature look to spaces like the Salerno Maritime Terminal in Italy—the first major project to be completed after her passing—with the highly anticipated ME Dubai to open later this year.

We sit down with three other firms heading into a new era while still paying homage to the lives that created them.

Jaya International co-CEOs Rengy John and Clint Nagata

Jaya International Design
The sudden death of Jaya Pratomo Ibrahim in May 2015 from a fall in his home left a vacuum in Asian design. Although the soft-spoken, Anouska Hempel-trained Indonesian interior designer would loathe admitting it, he was a star. Projects starting with the Legian Bali cemented Ibrahim’s name as a sensitive auteur that graced spaces with local beauty and culture. His business partnership with Bruce Goldstein led to the 2010 founding of Jaya International Design (JID), an interior design and architecture consultancy based in Singapore with offices in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and New York.

“I first met Jaya when he set up his Singapore office,” recalls Bangkok-based Clint Nagata, co-CEO of Blink Design Group. “I had always admired his work. The way he envisioned spaces, his values toward life, his approach to materiality—what he did resonated with us as a firm,” he says. “When we heard about his passing, we thought it was important to try and preserve his legacy.” Singapore-based Rengy John, also co-CEO of Blink, felt just as passionately. “Both Jaya and Blink’s designs are based on stories,” he says.

After sending condolences, they reached out regarding the future of the firm. But the courtship process was slow: It took more than a year before Blink was able to formally acquire Jaya’s business in late 2017. “We did not want to just come in and stick our name on the door,” explains John. “The acquisition was a thoughtful and sensitive process. We retained a lot of Jaya’s staff and built relationships with them over time.”

With the purchase of JID, Blink closed its Jakarta office while consolidating staff in its Shanghai, Bangkok, and Singapore outposts. Ongoing JID projects are being steered back on track under Blink’s new direction, including Kempinski Kuala Lumpur, which will feature a Malaysian entrance courtyard in front of the 63-story tower. For the Ritz-Carlton, Jiuzhaigou, the design is based on the writing of renowned Sichuan poets and includes abstract interpretations of clouds. One of Ibrahim’s final projects was the Capella Shanghai—a yearslong project that evokes Ibrahim’s signature thoughtfulness. “With our extensive network and growing footprint in the luxury hospitality space, we are able to honor Jaya’s legacy by ensuring his unfinished projects see completion,” states John. “We see this as a huge honor, and we take on this responsibility with humility.”

Simon Rawlings, creative director for David Collins Studio

David Collins Studio
In 1988, architect and designer David Collins, along with business partner Iain Watson, opened his namesake London-based studio, crafting iconic restaurants—chef Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire in Chelsea, the Gilbert Scott from chef Marcus Wareing, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, to name a few—that have come to define his illustrious career. They “put London on the map as a global dining destination,” says Simon Rawlings, creative director at the firm. The studio expanded its scope with residential, hotel, and retail work, including the Delaunay hotel and stores for Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, and Alexander McQueen. “At the time, it was unique for one practice to specialize in multiple fields,” he says. Collins pushed the design limits until his sudden passing in 2013, only three weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma.

“Our main focus was to ensure that projects that were underway received over and above the amount of attention,” Rawlings says. “We worked extra hard to make sure we delivered on the things David believed in and stood for.” Rawlings, who has been with the firm for nearly 20 years, joined Watson in a leadership role along with design director Lewis Taylor and communications director David Kendall. Tasked with providing old and new clients with care and attention, Rawlings is also helping redefine the studio’s goals as they forge ahead without Collins.

F&B continues to be a specialty for the studio. London’s Ella Canta at the InterContinental London Park Lane, for example, is infused with Mexico’s vibrant culture to match chef Martha Ortiz’s signature use of bold flavors. Rawlings channeled “the midcentury Mexican furniture movement” in the design, he says, with a geometric-carved walnut screen adding dimension to the three dining rooms and bar. Circular, hand-forged metal window lenses, tabletops crafted from eggshells handlaid into resin lacquer, and a sun-bleached color palette of sand and salmon capture Mexico’s soul as they create “a wonderful, evocative, charming, and layered interior,” he says.

The 80-seat Carriage House club at Adare Manor in Limerick, Ireland arrived last month along with the recently opened 359-key Le Méridien Seoul and the reimagined Roastery and Bakehall food hall at Harrods. The diversity of projects comes as no surprise. “David always was the master of reinvention and always challenged us never to repeat ourselves,” says Rawlings. “We strive to still maintain this as our mantra.”

Michael Graves principal Patrick Burke

Michael Graves Architecture & Design
Tackling everything from product design (he brought more than 2,500 pieces to market) to redefining the Manhattan skyline during the modernist movement, Michael Graves initially came to Princeton, New Jersey in the 1960s to teach at the esteemed university before it also became home to his studio when he received his license in 1964. Known for iconic postmodern buildings, including the Portland Building in Oregon and the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, Graves’ career is rare in both legacy and longevity. In the ’90s, nearly two decades before his death in 2015 at the age of 80, Graves elevated a handful of architects to partner, including principals Patrick Burke, Karen Nichols, and Thomas P. Rowe, so the firm’s foundation would remain intact as the years went on. “It’s a family operation,” says Burke. “We have an office today that Michael wanted to live on.”

Graves’ final years were marked by illness, and though he still came to work in the office, the firm started to gradually transition while still following his lead by taking on challenging projects, such as the St. Regis Cairo, the Marriott brand’s flagship on the African continent scheduled to open later this year. A U-shaped composition maximizes “guestrooms and apartments with views up and down the Nile,” Burke says, while interiors are a “contemporary take on tradition,” characterized by a subdued material palette of stone, wood, and leather, as well as Arabic details. Custom furnishings handcrafted by local artisans outfit spaces from guestrooms to public spaces, including a dramatic staircase leading from the lobby to a banquet hall.

Graves’ legacy is exemplified by his venerated projects, but to him, the office he created and the people he employed were his proudest and most notable accomplishments. He never dictated what a design should be, notes Burke, “he saw it as a conversation.”

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