Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Master Architect Tells Of Storied, Luxury Places In Marrakesh, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, More

December 06, 2022 Tim Peck, Chairman of the super-deluxe design firm OBMI, shares far-flung travels and explains how story telling through architecture creates enhanced travel experiences. Season 1 Episode 73
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Master Architect Tells Of Storied, Luxury Places In Marrakesh, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, More
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Hotels and resorts that have a sense of place and tell a story are the ones we remember most. Tim Peck, chairman of the luxury design and architectural firm OBMI, has based his projects on that theme, and shares his insights and experiences.

We hear about an ultra-luxury hotel in Marrakesh designed as a souk, a palace updated to a hotel in Saudi Arabia, and other fabulous places around the world, and we discuss the future of sustainable travel in design.

Tim ends with a tale of an island inn in Mozambique, East Africa.
Tim Peck is chairman of the design and architectural firm OBMI a master planning and design powerhouse of global luxury design. Their imagineers, designers, and planners create visionary spaces that tell a story that is synonymous with place.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to many guidebooks.

Contact Lea! 
@lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website:

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Lea Lane  0:00  
Travelers around the world stay in hotels and resorts, and those spaces can be a big part of what makes the trip special. I remember most of the lodgings with a strong sense of place, many of which had been readapted from buildings used in the past in a different way. There was Villa San Michele in the Italian town of Fiesole above Florence, Italy. It had been a convent and we stayed where the nuns had slept and prayed. The facade around the entrance was by Michelangelo. And I remember a former warehouse along a canal in downtown Stockholm. It was spacious and modern, but the brick walls showed the wear of the centuries. In Jaipur, India I stayed in a former palace, it was pink. In England I slept in a room where a young Elizabeth before she became Elizabeth the First had scratched a message with her ring onto a glass window, which still remained, I felt her presence. There have been rooms and former barns and even once a chicken coop, but whether they were luxury or basic, these lodgings told a story lodgings with a sense of place are the ones I most remember. 

Our guest is Tim Peck, chairman of the global architecture, master planning and design powerhouse OBMI, synonymous with global luxury design, and with a process rooted in storytelling. It has an extensive portfolio that focuses on luxury resort communities and hotels, and their projects evoke an authentic sense of place. Welcome, Tim, to Places I Remember. 

Tim Peck  1:26  
Thanks very much Lea. How do you create or expose a destination which offers something really unique and something that becomes very transformative for the guests something that that offers that little bit special? I mean, we've all been through phases in our lives, where sun, sand, and everything else becomes very appealing life and relaxation. But nowadays, I think people are looking for so much more, they're looking for that that experience, which just adds some quality to their lives. So how can you you layer that on, whether it's through the the natural qualities of the destination, or through what you can create, I mean, as designers, we create the stage set for kind of performances, and the performances can be the nature, it can be the delivery of service, it can be delivery of wellness products, it's just an adventure.

Lea Lane  2:13  
It is. That's why we love it. Yeah, please share with us how you use storytelling and sense of place to create buildings for travelers and give us some examples.

Tim Peck  2:22  
We use storytelling very early on in the design process. And it becomes an essential part of the process for us. So that were sitting down with all of the stakeholders, which will include the developers themselves, it will include hopefully representatives from the community, and even possibly the guest target market. And we that we sit down and collectively create the story and the story must resonate with the context. So it's something that really works around and embellishing on the context. And this story gets woven into the whole design process and becomes a touch point at every stage of the design process. An example okay, one of our interesting projects is the Royal Monsour in Marrakech, that was a project which we designed for the kingdom Morocco. It started off as being a guest house for him and then actually has now become one of the very well known ultra luxury. 

Lea Lane  3:19  
It's a fantastic hotel, I will say.

Tim Peck  3:22  
But that all started off as trying to create almost like an extension of Marrakech. She's just on the outside of the walls of Marrakech -- with that we walked through the guest experience as: How can you translate the experience that you get in the souk, weaving your way through the Riyadhs into something which can be translated into an ultra luxury experience? With that hotel, you end up with the alleyways that would take you between the Riyadh's become the guest corridors. The Riyadh's themselves become the guest suites, complete with our little internal courtyards. We have a whole circulation system that runs beneath the whole project, which is the service so you will never see a service cart sitting in your corridor, they all invisibly service all of the reaction of the apartments themselves. It all utilizes the traditional craftsmen. So there's phenomenal craftsmanship used throughout the project, which really exemplifies the feeling of Marrakech, how do you create something that weaves the story of Marrakech into an ultra luxury experience?

Lea Lane  4:27  
That's perfect. I have stayed in Riyadh. And I think the idea of having a luxury hotel and the Riyadh experience is just about perfect and you walk out into Marrakech. Yeah, yeah, tell us about Yuko studio, which celebrates and draws inspiration from culture and heritage and your design for spaces.

Tim Peck  4:45  
OPMI it's been around for a few years, an 86-year old company. And Yuko is our interior design studio based in Dallas. We've actually worked over the years on a variety of significant luxury projects. What are some of them, one of the more recent ones like was the St. Regis in Bermuda, which opened nine months ago. And the whole approach to storytelling and translated into the interiors. So it's making sure that the design is a fully integrated process from our point of view. 

Lea Lane  5:12  
And reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright, with the organic outside and inside being a part of the beauty and the structure,

Tim Peck  5:20  
it is very much part of it. And it's really trying to make sure when we're creating an experience, how can how can we layer upon layer upon layer with that experience, so that when we feel confident that the whole kind of internal experience is going to relate to what we're the exterior shell or the stages that we're creating on the outside.

Lea Lane  5:39  
So you create new properties, but you also renovate? And for example, I know some of your high end designs are adapted palaces. Can you give us an example of that?

Tim Peck  5:48  
We've had a pretty good run in Saudi Arabia and we have been working over there now for I guess, the past 10, 11 years, and developed some very good relationships over there.

Lea Lane  5:59  
A couple of years ago, I was invited on the first press trip to Saudi Arabia, I refused the invitation because of political reasons and their treatment of women. I know you've spent time there. So I'm very interested in your take on that.

Tim Peck  6:10  
Yes, fascinating place. I've been going for the same 10 years or so. And just seeing the transformations it's gone through. I mean, obviously, the cultural transformations are really quite fascinating. And when you look at it in the context of the history, 40, 50 years in terms of the transformation of the society, the transformation of the of the very strong cultural biases that were there as an environment, parts of it absolutely stunning stuff that we've been lucky enough to work with. Have been doing a lot of palace work in general, so which isn't a kind of an extension of hospitality. And we actually worked with the boutique group developing an overall concept for refurbishing some of the existing palaces into ultra luxury hotels, so the Alhambra Palace in Jeddah, which is the old palace for King Faisal. And it's been a wonderful experience redeveloping that into product that will serve as strictly ultra luxury market. So

Lea Lane  7:11  
What do you do, tell us how the palace for example, how the rooms would be developed out of a palace?

Tim Peck  7:17  
I mean, first of all, you have to understand the essence of the existing palaces so you understand what drove the kind of the architectural ideas in the first place, and for the palace. So you can then work out how you can reinterpret that in a more contemporary way. (How old is it?  1970s A new palace. New in terms of how we look at things in certain parts of the world. And then it went through a variety of evolutions of refurbishment. So there were some aspects of it Andalucian, other aspects architecture of the general region. Then you you get into the complexity of how you make it work operationally, how you can build into something which had a very specific palace function. Into something where you can put your hotel suites, your wellness component, your restaurant facilities, you know, so it's, it's an interesting juggling, obviously, you add to it and you play with the vocabulary and through the process. It's fun.

Lea Lane  8:15  
The ruins of AlaAlula, I've read about that and seen pictures that looks like Petra in Jordan. I mean, as the same quality.

Tim Peck  8:22  
it is Petra, in many respects, it's in a spectacular natural context and undeveloped, you know, the sort of things that are being developed around that are amazing. There's, there's incredible wadies that run close (deserts. Yeah). Which is sort of the desert, almost the oasis within the desert, which has this wonderful experiential feeling in terms of the contrast of the desert, and the landscape and the water and the mountains. And then you go out to the Red Sea, which has the reefs which rival anything you see in the Maldives. It's just really quite spectacular. And then you go up into the mountains, completely contrasting, wonderfully unsophisticated environment up in the mountains, it's actually cold.

Really, I never thought of Saudi Arabia.

Up in the mountains, quite a bit south of Jeddah, the mist came in and it was we were actually driving through fog. It was very, very cold near Nium up in the northern areas. They're building a ski resort, you know.

Lea Lane  9:30  
it's a $500 billion project eventually to develop Nium. I have been reading about that.

Tim Peck  9:37  
Yeah, it is. Yeah. And we're lucky enough to be part of that, looking at the some of the hospitality side of it. So it's a really interesting country. And obviously, they're very ambitious in their targets. There's still a lot to be done, but I think you just have to see it in the perspective of what has been achieved.

Lea Lane  9:53  
It's uplifting to hear this and I hope that the political situation improves and that we all can have eventually go there because it sounds like a fantastic destination. And I would love to see it someday. Wellness has become a big draw for travelers. So tell us about some wellness trends and designs in hospitality and how you interpret that. 

Tim Peck  10:13  
Well, wellness now becomes much more than your health spa, it's very much a way of life. We look at how we can layer wellness on it as a complete program within the the operational program of any particular resort or hotel. And how do you deliver it in the actual hotel room itself? How can you build the nature into the program?

Lea Lane  10:37  
Well, I think if you tell stories, the story right, automatically.

Tim Peck  10:42  
It does. And then when you get into the spa itself, the spa has to be a really unique experience, it has to be something which which takes you into another world, it's not just going into your room, your little massage studio. First of all, you have to take people in into a dream and then translate that dream into an experience which which moves them mentally and spiritually before then you can start to treat them physically,

Lea Lane  11:07  
Yes, music candles and all that. But more than that.

Tim Peck  11:13  
It's much more than that. It's a really, it's a very interesting kind of sequential process that you take people through where you you literally take them through a mental, almost downsizing;  you layer them into this different world. It's fun, fascinating,

Lea Lane  11:28  
it's fun, and you're vulnerable there, it's a very quiet, vulnerable place. So you want to keep that in mind, I'm sure.

Tim Peck  11:34  
And that's what you have to explore, that vulnerability, and allow the individuals to explore it through the process.

Lea Lane  11:41  
I remember being in a Turkish hammam in Istanbul, and I was laying on a flat slab of marble, and it was the water splashing on me. And it was just one of the most memorable things I've ever done. But it was very simple. But I felt the marble, the coldness of it, the warmth of the water. And it was in a beautiful space. That was original, but I'm sure when you do new properties, you try to extend on that. 

You know, I've done hammam experience in Istanbul and it is spectacular. And one of the lovely things to feel is the part of history. Okay, you happen to be a tourist sitting there having the experience, but you think how many people have been have done this before you? Yes. You know, so that it then it becomes woven into a totally different type of experience. 

Tim Peck  12:06  
Well, let's talk about the future. Now. What do you feel is the future of hospitality design and some trends in tourism?

It's a phenomenally broad subject, because a lot of our travel has, you know, sustainability consequences with climate change. I mean, how many times do we get on an aeroplane nowadays to get to some of these destinations? And what is our carbon footprint, and unfortunately, a lot of these exotic locations are a little bit tough to get to, but talking about luxury travel, you know, we're all looking for something new and different. And that takes us somewhere, which is probably leaves a pretty dirty trail behind us. So that's an interesting part of the process. And what some of the things that we've been looking at is how do you reinvent that experience? So one of the ones we're looking at is what is a very traditional kind of result model, and a result model is a very horizontal experience, generally? And how do we reinvent that to a model that could be in an urban context? So how do we take a horizontal experience and translate it into a vertical format, but still utilizing the essential qualities of the resort? So how do you build the landscape into a vertical format? How do you build the kind of the districts that you would create through a resort into a vertical format, so that we could reduce the need for travel and effectively build some of these resorts into an urban environment? So that's been a really interesting exercise that we've been working on other things we've been looking at. Again, looking at some of these locations that we work in around the world are incredibly sensitive, we want to be able to put or to allow for a resort product that really literally leaves no footprint. So we've created a moveable resort product. And this stems actually, from some of the time I spent in the Serengeti, and kind of dealing with them the camps moving with the wildebeest migrations.

Lea Lane  14:14  
Yes, I've done that. You move wherever they are.

Tim Peck  14:16  
That's exactly right. You know, you have to keep the sense of luxury and everything that goes with it. We've designed a series of units and modules that will allow for the creation of resort, but that could go into a national park on a seasonal basis. It could literally move with the seasons, or it could be in a location for an event for a period. So it's the movable hotel concept.

Lea Lane  14:36  
Is there one example of that, besides in Africa,

Tim Peck  14:39  
The African example is the obvious one. I mean, obviously, you know, when we're going back to Saudi Arabia, you've got the whole traditional Bedouin experience, you know, which is the kind of the tented camp which would move across the desert. So in the old yurts, then you would get out in kind of Mongolia. So there are a variety of different ways that it has been interpreted in the past, so we're actually we're currently building a prototype.

Lea Lane  15:03  
Interesting. How do you think this will happen? 

Tim Peck  15:06  
We're hoping to have a prototype in place by the end of the year, and then see if we can roll it out.

Lea Lane  15:12  
Very interesting. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So Tim, I'd love to hear a bit about your personal travel experiences, and maybe a story or two.

Tim Peck  15:21  
I'm really, really lucky in the sense that because of the way the company has developed, we have been invited to explore some of the most wonderful locations across the globe, some phenomenally sensitive locations, because of the way we weave our projects into the tapestry of context and community. So that has taken me on some some wonderful adventures. It all comes from really our roots in the Caribbean, and I've lived in the Caribbean region for 14 too many years. And really make it makes you really understand the impact of development on communities. So you really feel and live it, so it's something which gives you a high level of sensitivity on on issues. In Africa, we've been working on projects. I was down in Mozambique looking at three islands that we're master planning. and some of the aspects of the mainland, which was had 17 kilometres of beautiful beach.

Lea Lane  16:14  
I've been on that beach. I don't think that many people have but it's a very wonderful, unexplored territory there that you have.

Tim Peck  16:21  
And that's why we went out, we went out to Vamizi. I don't know if you've been there, which is an island in northern Mozambique. You're right, we arrived there and landed on this dirt airstrip in the middle of a little local village, and I was met at the end of the runway by a few of the local villagers. And obviously we are in a little plane, you know, eight seater, or a 10 seater. They've met us at the end of the runway and picked up our suitcases and put them on their shoulder and kind of walked off into the sea. Okay, this is little bizarre. And then just tucked around the corner, about 25, 30 yards off shore was a boat. So we had take up our shoes, roll up our trousers and walk off into the sea up to the boat. And that took us down the island to this beautiful luxury, very, very small, very boutique resort, which we were looking at to help them redevelop and things. So you had the reverse experience, then when they pulled up next to the beach, the guys locked, shut the suitcase back on their shoulders disappeared off the beach, and you rolled up your trousers and they did offer to carry us .

Lea Lane  17:26  
Well, you know, it seems to me at a luxury place especially that would be one of the best things to do to keep that to keep the a part of going into the water.

Tim Peck  17:36  
Right. And to me that was how do you create the essence of that experience, which was a really transformational kind of experience in terms of how you know you had a nice round punch or whatever on the boat, but it was the just the whole sequence which said, God, I'm somewhere totally different. I'm living a different life. This has taken me from the real world into another world which is totally isolated.

Lea Lane  18:05  
Well, thank you Tim Peck, so interesting. The CEO of global architecture, master planning and design powerhouse OBMI, which is synonymous with global luxury design. We've learned about the importance of storytelling and design not only for pleasure, but to improve future travels and sustainability on our planet. Thanks so much for coming.

Tim Peck  18:28  
Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to chat and explore adventures together.

Lea remembers lodgings around the world with a sense of place
How to create a sense of place when designing a new hotel, In Morocco, Bermuda
Renovating a luxury property to tell a story, in Saudi Arabia
Creating wellness facilities
The future of hospitality design
Tim's personal memory of a hotel in Mozambique