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Radical Innovator

Radical Innovator

Hospitality architecture designer Sophia Chan MIA focused on possibilities rather than constraints when dreaming up the futuristic Broadster Hotel.

The Broadster synthesizes elements of a private boat, car, cruise ship and hotel.

As RISD students and other residents of the northeast dreamt of blissful escapes from last winter’s brutal cold and record-breaking snowfall, Sophia Chan MIA had something a bit more radical in mind. Vice president at the global architectural firm VOA Associates, Chan found in her confrontations with New York City’s icy walkways and winds the seed of an idea that became the Broadster Hotel—a hospitality concept for a “boat roadster hotel” that was recently included among the best of this year’s entries for the Radical Innovation Award. Organized by The John Hardy Group, the juried competition for “The Next Big Hotel Concept” provided her with the ideal forum to showcase her design philosophy: “Vision before implementation. Think about what’s possible and what’s to come, and then bring that about.”

A professional in the hospitality design field since before coming to RISD roughly a decade ago, Chan has undertaken projects for prominent hospitality brands such as Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, Westin Hotels, Mandarin Oriental, Watergate Hotel and various boutique hotel brands. She says she’s drawn to the field because it liberates creativity. Fascinated by how people live and, even more, how they want to live, Chan says that hospitality architecture always needs to anticipate “what is coming, what is next,” and envision how changes in the way people live and work shape their desires.

For instance, these days travelers want speed, expediency and the freedom to personalize their experiences, Chan says. The Broadster, which has appeared on CNN Style and USA Today Travel, synthesizes elements of a private boat, car, cruise ship and hotel to give vacationers the ability to chart their own course through island locales and minimize their reliance on multiple modes of transportation.

A dome-shaped central hub features upscale amenities inspired by the aquatic surroundings, including light fixtures that cast an oceanic glow on interiors mirroring the shapes and textures of the ocean floor. Guests of the futuristic hotel would also access aquatic activities like snorkeling and swimming from the central hub, or navigate their surroundings from mobile guestroom pods that connect to docking corridors attached to the Broadster’s hub.

Though initially guided by a vision unencumbered by technological limitations, Chan emphasizes the importance of pragmatism when planning something as ambitious as the Broadster. One of the conceptual challenges inherent in the competition was to design something as innovative and advanced as possible while still being feasible.

For Chan, revolutionary ideas aren’t difficult to find. Just “take in your surroundings, absorb what’s going on around you,” she advises others. “Make sure what you are working on can be built, can be integrated into the environment now.” Studying in RISD’s Interior Architecture department, she says, helped her strike this balance since she was encouraged to “dream big, but also to investigate the process” in all its stages, from concept to execution.

“You never know where your next idea is going to come from,” Chan says. “The Broadster was just a thought that arose from a cold winter.” It’s that ability to translate such thoughts into reality that continues to inspire her every day.

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