March, 2000


by Benedict Cummins

Recently, while spiraling through the labyrinths of the internet l discovered a project currently underhand in Florida that proposes a fresh, alternative vision called The Venus Project. It offers an insight to a future society that is dedicated to human concern and environmental reclamation.

The ultimate aim of the project is to ensure social and economic stability and enable every-one to participate in all aspects of the social spectrum and to have access to all of the amenities that a prosperous and innovative society can provide.

Needless to say, it's quite the project.

Coupled with our present technologies, The Venus Project can practically eliminate war, poverty,
hunger, debt, crime, etc. I have to admit the ideals the project promotes do sound far-fetched, however, if you view some of these ideas with an open mind you 'II find that most of them are rather fascinating, and not as idealistic as one might think.

In particular I was intrigued by their methods of sustainable development. As all of us are aware, we have reached a period where we now realize that if we don' t look after our environment, in our life-period we won't get another chance. Once we clear those forests that nature took millions of years to create, it will take the same time to replace them back to their original state. But there's more to it than that. We 're now discovering that we a re entwined with our environment – that certain things interact with things, such as amphibians providing us natural antibodies, and medicinal plants that we haven't even discovered yet. Like one big circle. It's kind of like macrobiotics. We are part of the environment. Sustainable development is becoming quite a hot issue, especially with the advent of a global economy, where we are now realizing that the world really is a small place. We now know just how many trees are currently standing in our rainforests, and how many fish now swim in the ocean. We can even predict weather patterns, and ozone depletion. The techno logy we are now experiencing is quite astounding·. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we have now made planet earth and its natural resources quite vulnerable. With just a few clicks of the mouse on a pc we can practically move mountains. And to think this is just the tip of the iceberg of the technology era.

Certainly, it would be in our best interest to utilize our technology in our favor. One area that is a key issue is sustainable development practices in tourism real estate. Could hotel developers one clay be viewed as the pioneers in sustainable development and perhaps introduce a code of living standards for us all? After all, we are the leaders in the field of acconm1odation, so who better to pave the way. Does anyone disagree with the idea of an organization who looks after the interests of the hospitality industry? Ironically, there is no 'umbrella organization' for the hospitality industry as a
whole – one that sets unbiased codes and standards, and educates in all are as of hospitality such as development, research, building codes, technology, ecotourism, diversity , markets etc.

by John R. Hardy,
President, The John Hardy Group

Did someone say "Utopia?" Is it a new luxury gated golf community') No - it is the Venus Project, a futuristic effort at so lving our social ills through the expanded use of technology. "Utopia" is a very attractive concept, but not readily achievable any time in the foreseeable future with all of our human frailties, special interests, religious conflicts, natural disasters and the uneven distribution of Mr. John R. Hardy, President, The John Hardy Group scarce resources. Their goal is a wor1hy one and it is beneficial that they can pursue their dream because it is thought provoking and it may positively influence others. Unfortunately, m many societies of the world you couldn't even discuss it openly. The hotel industry has shown some interest in various aspects of sustainable development, but nothing in a coordinated or coherent manner overall. Green Hotel programs, numerous charitable efforts, community outreach programs, and welfare to work programs have all benefited society significantly. However, based on the industry track record and the typical mindset of ownership, management, and funding sources it rs extremely unlikely for the hotel industry to assume a leadership role in anything as progressive as "sustainable development". The main focus is on sustaining the maximum revenues and profits with little or no attention towards moving society to a Utopian ideal.

In fact, it is almost quite the opposite with more emphasis than ever on short-term gain due to the influence of the public financial markets on the industry. With this short term mindset, limited creativity, and very conservative bias the hotel industry has as much chance of pioneering and leading an effort towards sustainable development as the Venus project has of becoming the model for a future society.

The hotel industry as a whole could provide more examples of improved value standards with i ts' intensive use of capital, expendable resources, extensive human resources and its' impact on the built environment. The hotel industry though, is like most other segments of society in that, long-term value and thinking is rarely rewarded. Instant gratification and quick returns are what get all of the attention. Unless our society's mindset is changed through education, social, political, or economic means or there is a complete paradigm shift in values and priorities, we will get more of the same. Compare the financial investment in professional athletics and new sporting venues in any major city with the investment in teacher's salaries and the public school system and you can very quickly see how our societies' priorities and values manifest themselves.

It would be very interesting to have an industry organization that is dedicated to focusing attention on long term solutions for improving the hotel industry's contributions to moving society towards a more ideal condition. Greater positive influences on our total environment and less destructive forces could be accomplished by the hotel industry if there was a real commitment to it and more education as to the value of it. This effort would have to encompass much more than design and technology to be effective.

Hotel design could have played a much more positive role in improving our built environment, but the short term focus and limited creativity mentioned previously has led to a mind-numbing proliferation of product that is mediocre at best.

Since hotels often serve as both social and economic meeting places they often have the opportunity to educate as well. There are also many stakeholders m the community that could be positively influenced by an enlightened hotel organization.

This action needs to extend into every corner of society and our cities to have an impact. The concept that the Venus Project puts forth that we should abandon our cities is neither desirable nor affordable. Many cities offer positive and productive environments for their citizens. It is time that there are great disparities between levels and segments of our society that must be eliminated.

Eliminating barriers to a productive and positive life for everyone will require a reprioritization of resources, values and behaviors for it to be accomplished. What the industry could do is set a course towards enlightened sustainable development and redevelopment by reinforcing the many positive aspects of our community. Much more work needs to be done by our society in defining what our "community" really means in terms of scale, values, educational standards, amenities, transportation, technology accessibility, and racial/cultural diversity.

Essentially, we still have not been able to extend equal opportunity for maximizing every individual 's potential to every level and segment of society. Until we can do that we will continue to be plagued by the problems we have now.

by Christopher J. Balfe,
President, HVS International Eco Services

The Venus project talks about a total redesign of human culture to focus on different social and economic values, which will in turn result in the need to redesign anything from facilities to transportation methods. The project's atmosphere implies that this will happen some time in the future. One of the pioneering elements of the hospitality industry is that we are already in the middle of a similar socio-economic shift and resulting redesign. (it may be prudent to note here that while we may look back at some of the changes that are apparent today as more fad than paradigm, but for the most part, I think it is pretty safe to say that we are in the middle or at the beginning of a total overhaul of the culture of the industry.)

There are so many individual elements of change that we as an industry are reacting to and designing for that need for sustainable development practices is only one item on a laundry list. Think that the total number of travelers staying in hotels has skyrocketed and that the needs and expectations of this many times larger, more diverse guest base are so numerous that it becomes almost impossible to rely on the old standards of universal appeal for our products. I see that designers and developers – and this applies to hospitality service concepts as well as physical structures – are forced to try create entities that will appeal to some, but not all of the demand in the market.

Within this market chaos, environmental awareness among the general traveling public seems to be at an all time high. With that awareness comes increased interest in sustainability principles. This 'market force' gets added to the list just like any other, and hoteliers have the opportunity to pick item off that list and design to them. Because the hospitality industry has been forced into this upheaval phase before other industries, and we are already re-designing and re-developing, designers and developers have the opportunity to not only establish themselves as pioneers but to set the standards in sustainability practices.

What is considered sustainable will evolve over time but being labeled a pioneer is eternal, and smart people in this business are out there positioning them selves and becoming these pioneers. Personally I can easily envision the industry incorporating the ideals of the Venus project, and further do not believe that building such a utopia would be a challenge at all. What would be an incredible challenge would be for a hotel executive to convince their shareholders that such a concept would have the type of appeal to make it work from a feasibility viewpoint. If done well today, the idea could be a very successful and profitable one 'for the company responsible.

It seems logical that you would be able to attract a good number of travelers to any such concept-intensive hotel, and if done correctly you may be able to collect very high rates for rooms as well. Marketing the hotel would be a cinch, and if nothing else you could probably make a business out of renting to sci-fi film But how long will this demand last, and more importantly, how much demand is there. Hotel companies make money finding a formula that appeals to their target and then repeating it over and over. Until this demand is considered universal, such a project will have to settle for being extraordinary.

Could the hotel and resort industry dictate a code of living standards? Does any industry dictate living standards? Did the automobile industry encourage Americans to enjoy the outdoors more and desire to travel off road by making the SUV obtainable, or did people always desire these things and communicate the demand to the car makers? Lets suppose that the former is true, and that the hospitality industry has the same power over the masses. My answer then is: Possibly. The critical factor is whether or not we can make our customers feel privileged to be patronizing our hotels. If we can do that, we can possibly dictate some living standards. Currently there are hotels in almost every
market where guests are paying top dollar and yet feel that the are somehow fortunate to be there. An actual example, although extreme, might be Ian Schrager's Studio 54. The club's chosen few would spend obscene amounts of money and do whatever Steve Rubell wanted them to do, all because they felt privileged to be there. Exotic nightlife aside, traveling, and to a greater extent vacationing is still a pretty prestigious thing. People who travel frequently seem to think of themselves as privileged. If any industry can dictate codes of living standards, this notion of privilege may be some thing that we could build upon.

Perhaps there could be room for an organization who's focus is research and education relating to the lodging Industry, s1m1lar to The American Institute of Wine & Food, an umbrella organization for the wine and food industry.

It will take the willing participation and cooperation of the top professionals in our industry if we are to see change in the near future. While changes in design styles and methods are common and usually welcome by people who both create and use buildings, changes in construction methods move to the beat of a different drum. The high costs of development for our industry give us a natural tendency to be conservative and do what we know works to build hotels that guests are going to like and are going to last. Food and wine are much more temporary and easier to control. If you create an unpopular dish as a special on your menu and it flops, you can take it off the menu

The construction methods and materials used to build hotels and other structures really have not changed much in the last hundred years other than how they are shaped and what goes inside them. Considering this, it seems that it will take a committed effort from the top players in the industry to effect change anytime soon. Such an organization may be the best first step toward that goal.

Mr. Christopher Balfe is president of HVS International's Eco Services Division, an environmental consulting firm dedicated exclusively to the lodging industry, with the assistance of hospitality and environmental experts, including the Rocky Mountain Institute. HVS Eco Services ere ales practical. cost-effective programs to upgrade the environmental performance of existing and developing hotels and resorts.

by Howard Wolff,
VP & Corp. Managing Principal, Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo

New ideas are often born from old ideas. In spite of its name, The Venus Project embraces some rather fundamental, earth-bound concepts that the architectural profession has been trying for years to reclaim. Namely, bringing humanism and environmentalism into the industry.

Our 55-year-old firm, Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, is known for its planning and design of hotels and resorts on six continents. No two are alike except in one regard: they respect the environment and the cultural heritage of their locations. We call it our "Do Not Disturb" approach; and, frankly, those who give lip service to the notion of sustainable architecture do a disservice to those who take it seriously.

We do not view development as nature's enemy. Granted, the threat of to t:~ism can destroy the very thing that tourists come to see, but it doesn't have to. The multifaceted challenge of architects and hoteliers is to create projects that are exciting and profitable while, at the same time, acutely sensitive to their surroundings.

With first-hand knowledge of the site, architects can identify special features such as views backbackdrops, prevailing winds and cooling breezes, drainage courses and natural landscape elements that can make a parcel of land unique. With that knowledge, buildings can then be optimally sited to take advantage of their locale, to create a special place, and to minimize the dependence on technology.

Better planning and increased environmental awareness can result in a profitable hotel or resort with a sense of place that pleases short-term guests as well as long-term residents. From our perspective, the "eco" in eco-tourism can also stand for economics: the two can co-exist. Consider these well known examples: Hotel Bora Bora in French Polynesia, the Hyatt Regency in Kauai, the Tanjang Jara Beach Hotel in Malaysia, the Movenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea in Jordan.

We each have our own visions of utopia. The crea tors of The Venus Project have envisioned a community that, in its noble quest for egalitarianism, offers mass-produced housing that is available to all. As architects and designers who work hard to impart a uniqueness to each client's project, the image of mass-produced anything seems antithetical to the equally compelling drive toward individuality. Humanism, as we apply it to architecture suggests a way of being and doing that never loses sight of the individual. The architects and designers of WAT&G have been engaged in creating innovative hotels and resorts that are no longer terrestrially- based. We are at work on an 80-room undersea hotel, observatory, and marine research lab. We are developing concepts for an orbiting space resort that uses recycled external fuel tanks salvaged from space shuttle launches. And we have been creating a design for an airship hotel that could travel the world in an environmentally- friendly way. We have the technology and resources to build underwater cities and hotels in space.

Nonetheless, the challenge of building an environmentally conscious utopia-like that imagined by The Venus Project-seems even more arduous. It is harder to innovate on earth, where new ideas must, by their nature, uproot those we've become accustomed to antithetical however faulty they may be.

We are so regularly encumbered by a project's parameters – in terms o f budget, schedule, aesthetics – that we begin to think in ways that are less grandiose, in fact, less grand. The relevance and value of The Venus Project is that it can lead us to think in loftier terms. What would we want the world to look like if we could build it anew?

The future of newer technologies, cybernation, and artificial intelligence will enable us surpass many of the widely held values of today. The widest possible range of architectural expression in resort and city design. will be uniquely related to individual needs. preferences and the environment. Our project calls for the maximum expression of individuality in life styles and dwellings. All construction and social orientation of the future must be entirely designed in accordance with the carrying capacity oft he environment.
– Jacque Fresco, The Venus Project