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Architect with 400 hotels to his name

By Peter Muiruri | Published Thu, March 17th 2016 at 00:00, Updated March 17th 2016 at 00:40 GMT +3

You are behind the interior designs of hundreds of hotels worldwide. Doesn’t that make your job monotonous?

I have actually worked on about 400 hotels, 200 of which belong to the Rezidor Group that runs the Radisson brands. Radisson Blu Nairobi is my second hotel in Africa to work on after another one in Lagos. Each hotel has an individual footprint depending on location. An international traveller must have the authentic feel of each location on earth despite staying in the same hotel group like Radisson. However, we make sure that the group’s signature design comes through.

What ‘feel’ have you injected into Nairobi’s Radisson Blu?

If you look across, you will see some African themes. The walls radiate with Makena Mwiraria’s (African Heritage Design Company) creations. These include the sculptures above the main lounge in which the Maasai man with a spear firmly grounded in the ground, indicating that a guest is right at home here. The sculptures are the work of Kevin Oduor. There are subtle African themes in the rooms as well. Despite the local feel, Radisson Blu in Nairobi still retains the stature of an international five-star hotel.

You first visited the current site in Nairobi in 2008. What was your first impression?

Oh, there was nothing here apart from a car-wash business. It is amazing how designs can make good use of empty space.

What challenges did you face while putting the hotel?

Every big project like this where you have a number of experts coming together has challenges. You must get things right since this is a cost-intensive venture. You work the layout and then balance between what you want to create and what the operator wants. Restaurants must be in the right place. Rooms must be made right the first time. Any retrofitting afterward increases costs.

What are some of the unique themes in the rooms?

We have three themes in our rooms. There is ‘Urban’ style with particular attention to detail and functionality.

The ‘Naturally Cool’ is the most contemporary, stylised and sleek of the designs. The room is versatile enough to be found in almost any setting – urban, suburban or resort, in cool or warm climates. Splashes of colour increases its appeal.

The ‘New York Mansion House’ style is defined by its sophisticated strong lines, deep rich timber finishes, flashes of chrome and stunning turquoise. It’s dark and clubby, but simultaneously contemporary. The overall atmosphere is elegant and has the feel of an upper-class lounge.

The eight years’ drag must have been tiring for you, I imagine...

Not quite. We are used to such time-frames though this was longer than initially anticipated. It is easy to forget what was on the table eight years ago. You must be careful that your team keeps the momentum, that you don’t lose interest.

Going green is a concept that is gaining currency around the world. Have you incorporated any sustainable building aspects here?

We have installed solar panels on the roof, grey water recycling plant, a borehole to supplement city water, rainwater harvesting techniques and a large central atrium that lets in natural light.

You have been in this job since 1981. What changes have you seen in hotel designs?

I have seen many changes. Shapes are always changing. Hotels are not just a collection of rooms. Today’s hotels have a personality. The current business traveller or tourist has seen many hotels and is looking for that unique experience. Hotels must evolve to keep up with these trends.

What would you be doing if you were not an interior architect?

I had wanted to be in the advertising world.

What changed?

My dad and his two friends were architects. They asked me to help as I waited for an opportunity to open up in my preferred field. Well, it’s over 30 years now. I think I may well stick to this job.

Anyone in your family following in your footsteps?

No. My only daughter is in the film industry.