Having just enjoyed a few nights at an Aloft hotel – W hotel’s budget / hip / youth product line – I’d say there is a strong case to be made for the “cheap and cheerful” design strategy. (Google’s offices and Ikea are also notable examples of this approach). There is something about using materials that seem less precious and arranging them in clever ways that somehow creates environments that are more fun to be in than their more expensive and refined counterparts. At the aloft this means design moves like unfinished ceilings, brightly-patterned wallpaper, spaces with blurry boundaries, and lamps – lots of them. It’s hard to pin down how this works, but the result are places where you can relax and let your guard down since they have too.
That the character of a place can influence what happens in them is of course nothing new – the idea of the garage or the loft as a raw, experimental space which fuels creative enterprise comes to mind. But, perhaps the notion that spending a lot could be inhibiting is worth considering. The new addition to the MIT Media Lab will be a telling example: will the elegant and exquisite new spaces promote the same kind of creative risk-taking as the old building which happily tolerated being bolted into, rewired, or rearranged? Time will tell. In the meantime, I say we kick back and enjoy the clever and frugal places like Aloft [Kudos to Rockwell group for smartly steering these].