• Lucy Grant

#BeyondCOVID Town Hall - ASIA 06

#BeyondCOVID is the new mindset we have all had to adopt… how do we operate in this new changed state? I've gathered together some amazing Design Executives to share what they are doing now and in the coming months to survive and thrive in these difficult times.


Adrian Battisby - Senior Director of Interior Design at LW

Andrew Mead - Chief Architect (ARBUK) at MTR


Marriott Hotel Reception Robot

MTR Hong Kong Train Sanitising Robots

Katamama Suites, Potato Head Hotel Bali

Vatsu Architecture

Ho Chi Minh City Metro Construction


Mark Bergin 00:00

Hi, welcome to another Design Exec Club Town Hall, this is our sixth Asian Town Hall. We have been having some much bigger panels, but today we're gonna have a more condensed panel, which means we get to go drill in and go a bit deeper on some topics. Now we've talked about the idea of React, after COVID, the Rebound, and also the idea of Reimagine. But reimagine has actually also got us to bump into a thing which is about new possibilities. And the new possibile is such an interesting category for us to go talk about. Adrian, I'm going to throw across to you first and just ask you what's the new possible that you're seeing, particularly in the hotel space?

Adrian Battisby 00:42

Hi, hi, always good to be here. For us, the guests are requiring distance and that's big. We've seen that in some of the past couple of months, but more recently, it's about finding destinations because holidaying will return and rebound very quickly. It's finding destinations where the guests can have more space. It may not necessarily be in terms of luxury, but it will just be we want to be further apart. So some recent surveys have picked up on the demand for islands - hiring private islands, private jet hire has gone up, boat hire has gone up so that you're on your own and you can still have a fantastic holiday but you can be more conscious about choosing to be distanced from your fellow guests. Obviously, you know f&b has changed dramatically overnight with spacing between dining guests. But when it comes to on your holiday, when you're around the pool, do you want to be in the pool with just yourself and your close friends? Do you want to do that and hire your own island? So I think we're seeing a lot more interest and take-up of accessing more remote or more private destinations to give you that peace of mind. I'd also say Marriott has been trialing robotic room service delivery and robotic concierge services at the Marriott Nan Shan over in Shenzhen, they have one of those little robots that meets and greets you in the reception and escort you to the elevator. So I think that integrated technology we will be seeing that more and more.

Mark Bergin 02:19

And I think that idea of non-biological room services is like the robot is not meant to be able to cough and it can't splutter and it hasn't got germs on it. That's quite interesting. We know that people like Amazon, Amazon are at the point where they can offer a supply chain, which is actually a completely vaccinated supply chain for one of a better term. They can say we know that governance from the warehouse to your front door because they're controlling that whole process there, which is something that FedEx, and DHL haven't got the same level of control. So, you know, we're seeing people saying we know that we can give you a bubble and we know that bubble is actually got these qualities when it comes to biohazards and other terms.

Adrian Battisby 03:08

That would be amazing. I mean, that's really taking care of the consumers' needs because there have been questions, you know, how is COVID transmitted, is it down packages, and there's been discussion of air cargo from one country to another? Are the items still, you know, sterile? Amazon is doing that, I think, you know, they've really been taking advantage of the pandemic to come out the other end with a real success story.

Mark Bergin 03:33

And I know the general store that's close to me, the owner of that is looking at putting UVC into his store so that he can tell his customers the way that he's sanitizing the air. The same thing for the pilates that's next door. People are wanting to actually make, you know, overt statements that they're actually not toxic, I think is probably the better term.

Adrian Battisby 03:56

I think within hospitality I would also want to touch on workplace and wellness and wellbeing in the workplace. And I think that's definitely a focus now. We're currently working on a proposal where we're talking about the wellness and the mindfulness and the well being of the colleagues. Do they all get given their own you be one so that they can sterilize their telephone and their desk themselves? Is there a sterilizing robot that goes around at night? How are the hand sanitizing stations introduced throughout the workspace? Because you consider how many touchpoints you have in the office. How do you make all the co-workers feel really healthy and that they're satisfied that the workplace is a safe workplace for them?

Mark Bergin 04:44

And there's a big problem with the UV that kills bacteria also kills humans, doesn't it? So we've gotta be careful there.

Adrian Battisby 04:54

It's like sunbeds.

Mark Bergin 04:59

UVC is like everything dies, sunbeds is where part of you dies but not as fast. Andrew Mead - your world with having just under 100 stations in Hong Kong, big stations that you're involved in. Lots of machines which are effectively you know, a type of automation contactless, but you've still got thousands of people, actually is it hundreds of thousands of people that go through the train system every day?

Andrew Mead 05:27

Before COVID hit, we were moving about 5 million people a day,

Mark Bergin 05:31

Sorry, 5 million? 5 million a day... wow.

Andrew Mead 05:35

Nowadays, I haven't seen the statistics recently, but it'll be around about the 4 million-plus mark. I mean, Hong Kong's back at work.

Mark Bergin 05:43

Yeah, and because there are some big interruptions that you've had to the network, you used to service the airport, there's no longer the traffic flow back and forth from the airport, because there's little or no flights, Disneyland for a while was shut down, and you've probably seen that people are also changing their times like they want to get in on a train a little bit earlier to make sure that it's not as crowded. But what does interest me is that you know, the difference between different jurisdictions or different locations, and the way that they're talking about what the distance is that you need to be safe. In Australia, when nobody wanted to wear a mask, so, therefore, it had to be the one and a half to two meters. I think in the UK, they've got the same thing. And in the UK, they've got a massive problem in the City of London, which is they can't get people into the high rise towers, because they're only allowed to have one person every four square meters in a lift and the lift frequency isn't enough to actually load the floors up and unload them. Because they're not mandating masks. Your world is very different on the train network where it isn't mandatory to wear masks, but people are just doing it as a matter of habit.

Andrew Mead 06:57

Well, here in Hong Kong, I think because society went through SARS, when the COVID outbreak come out, you saw that there was almost 100% wearing a mask in society before it even became mandated. And I think there's a general awareness of hygiene in the city anyway, amongst the populace, which is I think, one of the reasons why if you look at our statistics, compared to say, London, as a city, we've done so much better. It is now mandated. And I think speaking to colleagues in other Metro cities around the world, talking about the COVID impacts, a lot of them are saying it's about an issue of trust, of getting people back in and are we as a metro public transit organization, showing people that the system is safe? And I think there's a lot more visibility on the cleaning that was probably already going on in many places, but it's now becoming much more visible things like sanitizers on escalator handrails, you're seeing these big bolt on things. And in some cases that technology was actually already there. But it was hidden away inside the workings. So it's as safe as it was previously. But now it looks safe. And therefore we're building up a trust, which is very important. Just interesting talking about robots. We've introduced in our, in our depos at night, we have a robot that goes into the trains themselves, and sprays a peroxide solution into the space and helps sanitize and we've done a quite a lot of publicity around that, again, that happens at night, you don't see the robots during the service. And I think there's a lot of visibility, about safety about what we're doing. Much I say about your hand sanitizers and things like that, you know, are they available and accessible?

Mark Bergin 08:52

Right. Yeah, and that would seem to me that, you know, initially, we were very worried that COVID was going to be transmitted through touch, and the thing is it has a lot more airborne consideration then touch, which I found really interesting, because you know, initially it was like hand sanitize everything and now it's more like there is lingering air, there isn't high circulation. So I know in one of the town halls, we were talking to an architect and those outdoor areas in shopping malls were actually the very low footfall areas and they didn't have high rents, their rents have now gone up because they're the future spaces that people want for wellness, whereas the denser, higher traffic areas near escalators are actually now having their rents lowered because they're not as popular and I think that's fascinating to see how the market needs change about wellness comes in. In other words, don't make me sick. Don't make me think about the rest of my life. But I want to get into some of the possibilities that they're saying, Andrew, I know that you've got, you know, a continual program of building out new stations, you know that that doesn't stop. And there's the imagination of that Hong Kong leads either replacing or is building out of how, how is that accelerated, you know, Juda COVID, because we've seen in most cases COVID has been an acceleration event, it hasn't necessarily been about transformation has been more, how do we accelerate things that we've already thought about?

Andrew Mead 10:31

Well, it hasn't really accelerated or slowed down the construction development program, because obviously, these are multi-decade programs. And fortunately that they don't stop by COVID, it slowed down a little bit just because of staffing issues, but that's just a blip. But I think what has accelerated significantly and again, it maybe it was already there, but it's just brought it to the top is environmental awareness and new to add that sense of openness. We've been having some big debates about non air-conditioned stations. And you know, here in Hong Kong, hot, sweaty summers, most of our stations are air-conditioned, and we appreciate it. We really recently as part of the shot in Central and opened up one station, which is not air-conditioned. But it's been designed to be a little bit cooler, it's got some green roof features on it. And we're now looking to really accelerate that and really try to properly engineer non air-conditioned stations, which is entirely aligned with the idea that you're in the open air if there are viruses and not just COVID but something else in the future we build for decades. But these spaces are healthier to be in than the enclosed air-conditioned spaces. So in some ways, it's helped accelerate that debate, we were obviously moving from that from a lower carbon footprint idea, which is part of our corporate goals. And so we're gaining traction quicker than that I think if we didn't have COVID, so it's not all bad news. Yeah. COVID is a huge impact to everyone's lives and business. But it is actually accelerating a little bit faster into hopefully a better future.

Adrian Battisby 12:16

And it may actually create more awareness of wellness and the wellness industry will become more integral to our design, health, healthier spaces. cleaner, we'll be demanding that and I think the comment you mentioned about the bolt on UV sanitizer for the handrails, I think is absolutely right, you see it so you believe it. And I think you'll probably be seeing more of those where there are some visual signals to identify this space is now healthier for you. It could be I don't know, a change of color or some kind of message, but it would be on a hotel room, I've opened the door, then the door handle could get I don't know, sanitized somehow and you know it's a clean item to be in contact with. So, yeah, and I think it will be I think the air quality. You know, you see a lot of people wearing the air purifiers around their neck. It's all about having a healthier environment. Yeah.

Andrew Mead 13:12

I mean, we just go through a lot of stuff about Internet of Things, and 5g, and how does that impact on the service we can provide? And, you know, one of the discussions was about monitoring. And then can we feed that information back real-time to say, you know, what is the air quality here. Again, primarily about trust is that, you know, we're, you know, in a safe space, regardless whether it's air-conditioned or not air-conditioned? How can we use technology to build up that trust level? And it's not just for now, but it's forever and you know, those information systems come down to simple things like when's the next train arriving? And with the 5g, we can predict that much closer right now we typically say one minute two minute three minutes, but you can actually say it'll be arriving four seconds. Yeah. That's the accuracy with these new systems give us.

Mark Bergin 14:04

I'm thinking about, Andrew I know that you had a long haul relationship with the team at WOHA out of Singapore and the residential buildings that they've built where they got rid of the idea of plaster the in the hallways, like why the hell are we air conditioning, plaster the hallways between lifts and front doors. So then they had sky gardens, they have these open profiles. Adrian, I wonder when we're going to see that five-star hotels will start to pick up the idea that there is cross ventilation, that they're picking up the topology that WOHA have put into their buildings,

Adrian Battisby 14:41

I think I would cite the example of the fantastic Katamama Hotel in Bali. It has fantastic sustainable credentials. All of the guest corridors to the room are open brick screens that are interlocking and the screens are separated from the floor, and they don't connect to the ceiling and so all the natural breezes from the sea can come in, and your faded and the light comes through. So it's a noticeably cooler climate, obviously, your room then has its own kind of control. But the entire public space of the hotel is open and shaded, and it uses those traditions in Southeast Asia of screening so that you can get those cross ventilations. And of course, if you look at cultures, if you mention, in Singapore, and in India, they have their Vastu. And that's very much about placing certain parts of the building in the ventilation that you get it in the cool part of the day. It's always got a breeze coming through. And that can help obviously keep the space expression and avoid stale air.

Mark Bergin 15:47

When I'm liking about this conversation is that we're picking up on two things. One is about trust. And the other one is about its ecological side. You know, there's a conversation about how what are the trust maps? And are you talking about communicating out about how you're using robots to sanitize the rails? Also the idea of having alternative concierge services or room service, which is another trust point. But you've also got the environmental side coming in how do we go make stations which have got less of an environmental footprint? How do we go and actually make sure we're providing wellness and tritiated people? You know, we thought that when we came into cable that was actually going to be very much how don't I die from this and it's actually how do I survive and thrive is coming.

Adrian Battisby 16:39

I mean, I think one of the initial knee jerk reactions to COVID, because obviously everybody stopped moving and then the entire world commented how nature recovered, and how Mother Nature I can't believe she breathed and then the planet, you know, returned that, you know, you talk about people saying there was fish in the canals in Venice, and you know, the air quality was better around the world. So maybe that's something we need to think about as we go forward. Do we have to look at the carbon technologies that we haven't think of an alternative? And then think about embracing why nature is so healthy for us and how we bring that in? I mean, we do have the word biophilia when we talk about bringing nature into the interior, do we need to take that more seriously? Do we need to look at and maybe study more of the impact and have some data, some more data, behind that so we can make more informed decisions on having biophilia design, in interiors and in hospitality?

Mark Bergin 17:35

Andrew, you know plants, biophilia, how does that function in stations? Because they're very robust places that need a lot of cleaning and there's not a lot of natural light, that must be very difficult to go bring those values into those internal spaces. But imagine the new stations that have more cross ventilation and natural light may have more.

Andrew Mead 17:58

Well, I'm going to start with a bit of my earlier experience before I was in Hong Kong, I think you know, I was in Singapore. And I moved to Singapore in 1996. And Singapore, Metro again is one of the world's great ones. And back in 96, if you got into city hall or Raffles Place, their kind of downtown CBD stations, you would have found real orchids and plants in there. And they had put in the grow lamps and the irrigation systems to make it all happen. I was blown away. I mean, you know what, what a wonderful experience. I mean, there were no skylights in those stations, but there was an effort to make them green. And that's a long time before WOHA came along and green walls came along - there were there. Sadly, I know certainly at City Hall, they were removed because of advertising. And moving forward, of course, when they get bigger, they do become more of a maintenance headache. And that's when the economics guys come in and start saying how much is this costing? Again, as we're saying about what's happening with COVID, this awareness of wellness, there's awareness, say, hey, plants have good things. They're not just nice to look at. They're working hard to make the environment better. So I think it's coming full circle and the work that WOHA has been doing, WOHA designed two stations for me in Singapore. And you know, they're thinking about wellness and green and biophilia in their design, I think it's just a reflection of the more modern thinking on that. Moving forward now to Hong Kong. We've got a lot of green roofs, particularly on our and Sillery buildings. But there was a lot of technology went into that to try to minimize the maintenance again, you know, that's the first concern that comes in. In some of our later design stations that I've got on the drawing board right now. We've got green Both to help shade as well as provide fresh air. And the age old debates about you know MTR runs around away we don't operate a garden is a sort of debate we're having on. One interesting thing that we are looking at is community gardening. rooftop gardening. There's a company in Hong Kong called rooftop Republic, which is going out creating little England we call them allotments, but they're basically growing gardens. So he goes strawberries and, and herbs and spices. And you know, we've got one of those on the drawing board for a new station. And that's interesting because it drives ridership, you may not have a garden in Hong Kong, you take the train to your little garden space, and one of our more outlying stations tend to your garden and you take the train home. And of course, you're creating fresh foods that you know the certainty of your food in terms of pesticides and everything else, you have the fun of actually growing it yourself. And it's good for the environment. It is it just seems a win-win all the way around. So many, many opportunities.

Mark Bergin 21:10

And I imagine there's also a heat island benefit too by turning around and actually having a green roof rather than just a concrete or masonry surface. Yeah. And hey such an important part. I know, here in Melbourne, Rob Adams, he's like, if you go think of somebody who's the city designer, he's been in the role for more than 30 years, I think when he started, Melbourne had less than half a dozen cafes. And now it's like the cafe capital of the country. It's phenomenal, where the work that he's done, but he's worked on how does he actually uses the green canopy to go take the heat island effect in the city because we know we've got a heating issue there. And then if it's hot in the ambient temperature, then that means people put on air conditioning. And because of the heat exchangers, creates more heat island effect. So it's a very interesting energy conversation. And I think the more that we actually think of not so much that you're running a garden, but you're doing something which is about the overall environment of Hong Kong, it then that changes the agenda, but I could see it from a very rational perspective, a very lush city that Hong Kong is out, particularly with the hills around it, people may not see that being an immediate benefit that you're doing. And so there's some communication there.

Adrian Battisby 22:28

If you go to Shanghai and the French concession, I think those trees that are planted down all those avenues, they provide exactly that they provide the shade, and it does create a microclimate. And then the minute you leave that area, and you go into say, I don't know, Nanjing road or something, you're like, Oh, my God is faking out here, you know, because there's no shade at all. And I think that simple gesture back in the day when it would have probably been an elegant purpose, it's actually very practical, very practical because those trees are all shaded.

Mark Bergin 22:56

And then if we go look at the recently announced central station for Ho Chi Minh City, that was won by lava and aspects studio, the idea is put the central station under a park, and then create a beautiful linear park that goes across to get create that green space and in the center of the city. So so we keep seeing this coming through that people are wanting to go get to a better environment, which is also localized, but it has that macro effect in there. So we've got trust that's in here, we've got the environment that's in there. But we've also got possibilities that actually allow us to thrive and to be more effective. I know, you know, we're seeing the amount of travel that people need to go do for the work that they're doing has decreased because in many cases, people in white-collar jobs are out of work from home. But I know in Asia where you've got such small living quarters, their idea of working from home is actually really problematic. I was speaking to somebody who was involved in that was an accounting system where they were in one part of India and then moving it to another, I said it was hell because everyone's at home on top of each other, they actually don't have a work surface to work on. So I think that's very interesting to find out, you know, do they become even more local, which is that the desk is close to you not necessary, close to whoever the supervisor was of you as a staff member, you know, those possibilities, again, be interesting to see how that changes, they, which is probably the saving grace for the likes of WeWork because it looked like they weren't gonna be, you know, in a great position. And now everyone's trying to work out how they work closer to where they are rather than further away. But I want to take your imagination into the entertainment side of things, particularly Adrian for you the idea I'm giving away on to a resort, I'm going away somewhere which is actually in my own bubble. It's a very interesting idea because I think some of the hotels that you've been involved With have actually said, Let's decrease the number of rooms per floor to actually give people a larger space that people are wanting to get by space there. That's a very interesting change. And

Adrian Battisby 25:13

We've seen the definition of luxury changed in the last 10 years. And now it is about space, time, personalization, it's about wellness. Because these are things that we simply don't have access to. These are not currencies and our day to day life, you look at how crazy we were the entire world and mentioning air travel, we were all saying I'm hopping on a plane to go here, there, and everywhere. That's all stopped. And now we've realized actually taken a moment I've been with my family for six months, gosh, this is new. And I think that reaction as a human race, we will continue to thrive and demand we want that quality. So I think I believe the notion of a more quality based experience will be coming through. And that will mean as I said, more personalization, the ability for you to have your unique, I don't know, experience further away from being in a busy city, then it's in Barcelona, we're on the cusp of over tourism and the word demonstrations in Barcelona of them, you know, the residents saying we've had enough and the same in Venice. So those cities now have probably had time to return to normal. Do we want to rush back to those destinations? I would probably say they are wonderful destinations, certain destinations. So there will always be a demand. Now people are thinking outside of the box, where can I go next? Hmm. You know, what can be more original for me to do? I don't know if I mentioned there was a hotel. Last one. I think it was the head of woods. It's on the shipwreck coast in Namibia. And it was a series of shacks built on the beach, and it was quite inaccessible. And that was just such a wonderful idea that you could take yourself off. And I think developers and hoteliers now are opening their minds and hearts to more unique and more experienced based design. We've talked about the experience in home hospitality at length before but I now really is where can we go, you know, where can we go, that's really new. That also has an excellent ecological and sustainability aspect to it. That doesn't harm the environment. But we can get into nature, you will need to look at people like Bill Bentley, leading the tribe and creating amazing retreats in Vietnam and Cambodia that are just unbelievable. And they have designed the resort around nature. They've not knocked down one tree, they have been sensitive to the environment. And it's completely carbon neutral. It's fabulous. And I think people want that they want to have a vacation, where they feel that they're not ruining or trashing the planet.

Mark Bergin 28:06

Last week was a London Design Festival week and I was scheduled to be in London to go there to run a series of events around the idea of software for society. And what was interesting, if you go back to January and you think of what was the software for the society, it was generally driven by corporations. And then when the pandemics come in, we found that the role of the nation-state in public health and restrictions and lockdowns has actually come out of the corporate realm. And now it's actually the government's that are actually how economies will work and how they'll thrive. And what I can see in Andrew, I think you've got, you know, the context between Hong Kong and Singapore in the UK, I've got across the 10 cities in the world, Adrian, you've got across the cities in the region. They've all got these different systems. And it's near impossible to understand the rules in one system and the rules and the other system and they just clash. It feels like it is integration of the 1980s. It was like oh, yes, there's a Wang system and there's an IBM System, but they just don't work. And yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. And I wonder when we're going to see the protocols of what a lockdown means what a stage one and stage four means what stepping back means. We're going to see that being actually promoted to be homogenized. So that then the corporations who actually are trying to go get a thriving and growing economy will start to go and say actually, here's the plan. This is how it works.

Adrian Battisby 29:51

Yeah, I think what's interesting is the some of the government's and as you said, Andrew here from Hong Kong everybody done to face masks, the minute the pandemic hit, then you had other nations who were discussing the Human Rights implications of being forced to wear a mask. So where is your ethical question? What comes first? Human safety or your choices? And I think that's for me watching from Asia seeing those arguments as you go toward the west, and people's opinions on that and you vote that's democracy in a way for you, isn't it? But then you might have to say, you have to wear a mask. You have to look after your fellow man. So a difficult and I think, ongoing question.

Mark Bergin 30:36

Yeah. And, you know, I feel if you guys think of Imagine FM, Andrew had 400 people a day that were dying on his tracks, it would be totally unacceptable. Yeah. Get the idea of 400 people dying from COVID. Today. Oh, okay. Good that that happened. So, and I can see, as we're trying to say, well, let's get back to the efficiency of the economy, those protocols, and being able to understand it right across the world is going to be that it might mean that there are four or five different standards, but passports work around the world. You know, part of the reason the passport was brought in, was so that there are efficiencies in that their users were taken out because they were inefficient for movement when we knew the passport data was actually helping us to understand who was moving around, and you know, I can see is part of the new possible, an understanding of somewhere between local government either being nation-state or you know, individual territories and provinces. That they realize that there's a standard that they have to apply to, it's got signaling, it's got messaging and script triggers that are in there. So people understand the gameplay, I think the biggest thing that we've all had to go deal with is not being able to go see out of the fog of what are a lot of decisions that were not part of. And so I can see giving more transparency around that opacity, there is part of what the new possible will be, guys, I've had a wonderful conversation with them, I'm always humbled when I get to get to see is it anything that we haven't covered that you're just itching to get out, it's a good place to go.

Andrew Mead 32:22

COVID will pass. And there's a great future. And I'd say I think we look at the positive side of this. And there's a lot of incredible personal tragedies out there. But COVID will pass. And as we've mentioned, in this discussion, as many accelerators have happened because of COVID. And because of that, it's going to be a better world that we emerge out. And I think we've also particularly appreciated traveling much more.

Adrian Battisby 32:50

I think you're right, I think the journey that we made, we will value and they will become part of you know, our holiday, versus being a routine and a drudgery. And I also think what's been fantastic. It's been the international collaboration of scientists around the world working together. And perhaps sharing that information may have also accelerated advancements in bioscience and, and, and virus technologies that hadn't been there before.

Mark Bergin 33:18

Yeah, and we saw that happen months before. In about 1999 there were two camps that were sequencing the human genome. It was all kept as intellectual property, you know, we've got it first you've got it first. They weren't sharing it. And what they actually worked out was, it wasn't the human genome sequencing was where the prizes, it was actually in all of the genetic therapies and the genomics that come from that - that's where the prize was. And I can see something similar happening here with COVID, which is, this is the biggest uplift that we've ever seen on vaccines, viruses, and trying to understand them. That pulled knowledge will then spur off so many other opportunities out there, which is what I think they're after. The secondary wave is actually going to be with there leverage is, the primary wave is actually where they need to collaborate. Thank you so much for collaborating with me today. I'm always humbled to go have the minds of such great people. And we'll hopefully see you back in a month's time for the next Asian Town Hall. Thank

Hosted by: Mark Bergin

Podcast production: Pat Daly

Transcript: Otter AI

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