What is luxury? An expensive watch, a stylish car or simply having enough time to do the important things in life. Defining luxury can be quite contentious. But is luxury an issue that people can and should be talking about during uncertain economic times? The lecture program at Heimtextil has never been known to shy away from controversial topics. Some may recall the long taboo subject of ‘Ornament’ that the forum explored in such detail over the last three years. This time, magazine AIT joined forces with Heimtextil to host two days of talks and conversations about the issue of luxury. And, just as is done every year, the subject enjoyed an interdisciplinary discussion with architects, interior decorators, designers and artists.
On the first day, experts involved in developing and designing hotel and restaurant projects gathered together. The perspective they offered on luxury was as surprising as it was productive. It concerned the question of whether sustainability is the luxury of the future. In light of the general trend in the hospitality industry towards quantity at the expense of quality, sustainability is as difficult to attain as individuality, according to Düsseldorf-based hotel design consultant Thomas Kessler. At the same time, he believes that the luxury segment is also rife with niches for sustainable concepts. Wolfram Putz of GRAFT Architekten also supports this forecast. If driving hybrid cars and savouring slow food are part of the well-heeled image, this same spirit also translates to architecture. Putz believes that a narrative thread is what is needed to tie it all together. It is not enough for buildings merely to be green, their design elements need to tell their tale. Do good and spread the word. Strong images and stories are needed to make sustainable holidays in sustainable hotels into a lifestyle phenomenon.
Andreas Martin of Berlin’s Hotelforum Management GmbH shares this conviction. Demand has to be cultivated amongst guests. It is key to stimulating movement in the triad of investors, operators and guests. What real estate fund would be willing of its own accord to invest in building technology that is ultimately profitable for the operator? And what operator will be willing to pay a higher price for a property if the guests won’t be willing to spend extra money on sustainability?
Jordan Mozer of Chicago-based firm Jordan Mozer and Associates revealed the variety of different narrative strategies available in interior design. His unparalleled designs transport guests to imaginary worlds, surely it would be possible to take them to a dream of sustainability? Jan Störmer of Hamburg’s Störmer Murphy and Partners has anchored dreams to the European city’s reality. He pointed out that urban sustainability was rooted in density, integration and conversion.
The second day of ‘Let’s talk about’ opened up a rare insight into the luxury housing segment. Owners of this sort of property tend not to place much importance on publicity and projects are therefore little publicised. To Alexander Brenner of Stuttgart-based firm Alexander Brenner Architekten, true luxury means being pared down to what is essential. Harmonious execution requires a multitude of luxurious parameters to be present, ranging from high-quality materials to perfect detailing to an elite team of professionals to put it all together. The result is villas that are not showy, but rather radiate an almost Zen-like calm.
It is the small details that make all the difference. And architects are not solely possessed of this knowledge. Film-makers Dominik and Benjamin Reding of EYE! WARNING – Filmproduktion, in a brilliant tour de force, tell the tale of their day-to-day production work and how difficult it is to convey quality criteria to creditors. How does one make it clear that what seems to be the same thing is not the same at all? ‘Effectual luxury’ is what they dub the freedom to always be able to choose the best creative resources. It is not always synonymous with expensive, according to Titus Bernhard of Titus Bernhard Architekten in Augsburg. Because his firm has been involved in realising high-ticket private villas recently, he would welcome the opportunity to conjure up an atmosphere of luxury from modest means. Joined by Hartmut Raiser of Raiser Lopes Architekten/ Innenarchitekten in Reutlingen, the circle for the talk was completed. In a journey through the history of culture, he began by pointing out the connection between luxury and power. But even if today’s tourism profits from constructed witnesses to history’s articulations of power, he believes that twenty-first century luxury is founded in a new sense of the unassuming. After all, the elementary can be fertile soil for a new luxury of sustainability to bloom.