Joyen Vakil, senior VP of Design & Development for MGM Resorts International clearly is not your typical North American architect. Approachable, humble and low-key, the design director of world-class hospitality destinations such as Bellagio, ARIA and MGM Grand seemingly has found his occupational Nirvana in America. In a proud, but gentle way, Vakil is on a mission to make tomorrow’s luxury resort architectural projects even better than today’s.
Vakil grew up in Mumbai, India, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture, graduating as class Gold Medalist both in his first and fifth years of study. In 1989, he relocated stateside, pursuing his MS in Building Design at Arizona State University. He initially worked for a civil engineer, but as fate would have it, relocated to Las Vegas less than a year later, joining a developer’s team.
Roughly three years later, an architectural firm specializing in the resort/casino industry hired him. “It provided me with a great learning experience,” he says. “During that time frame, I obtained my architectural licensure and NCARB certification and received my MBA.”
After leaving that firm, Vakil managed the Las Vegas office for a national architectural firm. During that time, he was pursued by the local MGM, which he subsequently joined as Director of Architecture to head up its Architectural Department.
The rest is history. Commercial Construction & Renovation recently met with Vakil to get his take on what’s happening in the industry:
What are some of the current design trends seen in luxury resort hotels/casinos?
What’s trending now is for each individual property to focus cultivating product offerings and services upon the next generation. When the millennials take over as being our number one target market, what will they demand? What will they want? This is an ever-changing process, and if we are to push the envelope to optimal levels for our resorts’ clientele on an ongoing basis, we have no recourse but to know everything about this continually growing market segment.
Re-invention is the key word. Technology is changing every transaction today. I remember my dad, when leaving the house, steadfastly making sure he had his keys and his wallet. Today, making sure one has his/her smart phone when leaving home is just as vital, if not more important. And many people, myself included, are now going ‘keyless,’ as well. My point being is that in particular, our hotel designs must fit in with this mammoth, ongoing re-invention necessity.
Is there an overall architectural & design “goal program” for MGM Resorts?
Good question. Perhaps the best way to answer that is to quote Einstein. He stated, “If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got.” We completely agree with that mindset. MGM offers different design strategies developed to both complement and re-invent.
We always want to raise the bar in every possible way; that might mean totally re-doing an existing property from top to bottom, inside and out… or, just lightly tweaking another one. All of this is based upon knowing what our clientele of both today and tomorrow wants. I like to think that, immodestly; we get into their heads, way before they get into our rooms, restaurants and casinos!
So many of MGM Resorts properties have extremely lavish pool environments. Is there a specific mindset on how best to create one of these?
Again, we must think “re-invention.” Years ago, the life of a resort’s pool area would basically stop every day at 7 p.m. That has changed. Now, it’s a nearby destination synonymous with relaxation around the clock; a place where one person or many come to decompress.
For example, in locations such as Las Vegas or South Miami Beach, pool venues at major hotels have been totally re-purposed over the last decade. And this re-purposing is based totally on knowing the demographics of customers. Do they like to listen to music outdoors? Does the outdoor poolside bar have different offerings than what is being offered indoors? Do people enjoy dining poolside? All of this and more are considered prior to any architectural plans being created. Demographics drive design.
Are there any specific MGM Resort projects you consider your favorites?
They are all my favorites. Why? Because first of all, they are the end result of so much research and subsequent strategic thinking. And secondly, they are each a compilation of specific life properties. I love the classical references and overall execution at Bellagio. The contemporary design at ARIA is totally unique from my vantage point.
Overall, I think my ‘favorite’ architectural projects are not yet even on the drawing board. I cannot wait to see what we’ll come up with next. We have a highly professional, seasoned and forward-thinking team. As creators of hospitality establishments, what we produce must be our customers’ favorites.
You were on the panel of judges, which selected a design contest’s winning 20-foot x 8-foot backlit mosaic mural to be installed on the wall of the Las Vegas MGM Grand’s legendary “Wet Republic. ” There were many great submittals. Why did you choose that specific one? I liked the idea of getting the design community involved.
The unveiling of this mural took place at the “Party by the Pool” during HD Expo; attendees included well over 1,500 hospitality designers. Our new mural was an expression of tomorrow’s technology relative to producing this type of artwork. Visually, it was electrifying. The sponsors of the competition, Bostik and Artaic, exhibited strong versatility of production for this medium, offering an interesting forum for expression.
From my standpoint, I was intrigued by the process of robotic mosaic mural production combined with a grouting material containing glass that further illuminated the glass mosaic tiles, giving the visual a life of its own. I also found and enjoyed the process of deciding upon the best of so many excellent designs, to be quite awesome.
For the commercial construction sector, what do you see as the future for large-scale hospitality resort projects?
I’m fortunate to sit on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and intermittently travel to both Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona to interface with both faculty and students. I’ve always been a fan of organic architecture and having this conduit with the talent of tomorrow helps me grow as well.
I love how the students there have such a strong belief in bringing in organic materials at a macro level to their respective projects. And, through that mindset, it clearly appears that architectural design can indeed go full circle. It’s great to see more organic, natural materials brought back into design.
I hope to see more of that within the arenas we participate as time goes on.