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Collaboration key as Kiwi-infused $90 million hotel gets set to open in Papua New Guinea

Having met Space Studio owner Vee Kessner (nee Smit) earlier this year for a story featured in Idealog, the immediate sense you got was of a women filled with ambition. As the owner of a spatial design studio that has 80 percent of its clients based overseas, she’d have to be. A lot has changed in the few months we met Kessner. For one, she got married, and a large $90 million hotel project her studio’s been working on for the past few years in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is at last nearing completion, due to open in November.  

Kessner said the $90 million five-star Grand Papua Hotel in Port Moresby is an example of how far a collaborative approach can take you. Space Studio worked alongside architect Cullen Feng Architects of Sydney designing the interiors of the hotel and delivering the interior materials to PNG. The studio also leveraged its relationship with Kiwi firm Fletcher Construction, whom it had worked with four years prior on another hotel development.

“We were introduced to the PNG project by Fletchers, and I think our collaboration demonstrates the opportunity for New Zealand firms to be more active in helping one another get a foothold in these markets,” she said. “The need for our skills exists – it is simply a matter of the opportunity and the capacity. Our firms can do a lot for one another in terms of networking, endorsing New Zealand consultants and keeping an ear to the ground in their own sectors and related ones.” 

The Grand Papua Hotel comprises 156 suites, four executive suites, an executive club, spa, gym, brasserie restaurant, bar, private club, retail services, and conference facilities for 300. 

The brief to Space Studio was for a contemporary colonial approach that showcased the history of Papua New Guinea and referenced the colourful, rich heritage of the indigenous people. The concept was a five-star hotel catering to a business clientele, and the scope of service for Space Studio involved a full planning review of the building planning and the coordination of this into the architectural drawings to ensure the facilities supported the 156-suite hotel. 

Space Studio developed detailing of all areas for incorporation into the architectural drawings, and undertook extensive research to ensure thorough knowledge and understanding of the heritage and custom aspects to be included in the project. Members of the Space Studio and Space Procurement (responsible for the order, manufacture, shipment and placement of the full inventory) teams have been on-site throughout the development process. 

Kessner said a lot of the hotel’s clients are businessmen, many of who won’t have the chance to explore the real PNG. That’s something she said can be remedied through design. 

“While you want to give them a very professional experience, they don’t have time to engage with the culture and go see it, so you need to bring it to them and have a sensitivity to that,” said Kessner. “We investigated a lot of the cultural design elements within Papua New Guinea and then brought those into the hotel in various layers.” 

Bringing that “sensitivity” to light included commissioning artwork and artefacts from the locals, as well as tying into the areas colonial past. Suites were reviewed, keeping in mind the colonial theme and making a connection with Papua New Guinea, with colonial-style loose furniture pieces for the wardrobes and consoles.

Other design features implemented by Space Studio include:

* A white backdrop has been maintained throughout, in keeping with the building exterior and the colonial design approach. Enhancing this is the acid-yellow and red ochre palette with dark timber found through PNG architecture, art and artefacts;

* Review of the current layouts and recommendations on swapping the bar location with the restaurant, allowing for a smooth flow between pool and restaurant and increased seating areas;

*  This also created a beautiful space for a private bar adjacent to the main bar (dark and colonial in design), and offered the flexibility in addition to change it to a private club for functions and cocktails as needed;

* The main bar has dark timber panelling on walls with recessed artefact glass cabinets displaying the local art and complementing lighting within the high ceiling space.

Proving that good work can get you a long way, the studio has been appointed to six more projects with the same client in PNG, ranging from small refurbishments of existing hotels to extensions of existing ones. 

More Grand Papua Hotel facts

*   Value of materials (including items such as sanitary ware, tiles, lighting etc) exported from New Zealand suppliers = NZ$2.3 million

*     Value of FF&E exported from New Zealand suppliers = NZ$2.6 million

*      Total value of FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) and HOE (hotel operating equipment) for guest rooms = NZ$9 million

*      Total value of FF&E and HOE for common areas, restaurants, executive club, gym and spa – NZ$5.015 million

*     $350,000 in electrical goods have been sourced from supplier in PNG

*      Exported goods from China (to date) include:

-  12 ½  x 40’ containers including kitchenware/sinks, case goods, sofas, chairs and fabric to the value of NZ$1.2 million

- 1 x 40’ container of outdoor furniture to the value of NZ$30,000

- 5 x 20’ containers of tiles to the value of NZ$98,000

-  NZ$1.2 million of containers and part containers have been dispatched from China and New Zealand to Papua New Guinea almost monthly since July 2009;

- Unlike major centres and regions, the logistics of supply to Papua New Guinea are challenging – requiring critical procurement planning and a thorough knowledge of shipping and logistics.