I am delighted to have had the opportunity to conduct an interview Patricia Yasmine Graf HOTEL TOTAL, one of the three heads (and hearts) behind an amazing initiative in Aachen, Germany. HOTEL TOTAL is innovating on all fronts: new purpose for old buildings, new interpretation of a hotel, new ways of engaging and interacting. Read on !
What motivated you and your colleagues to undertake this project?
First and foremost we were a little bored in Aachen ;-).
Due to our creative professions we travel the world a lot, encountering exciting places and projects in other big cities. Aachen is our home town has many lovely corners, yet what everyone is aware of are only the classical ‘Karl the Great’, our ginger bread, the Aachener Printen, and CHIO (horse racing). We feel that Aachen has so much more to offer, and that’s something we wanted to demonstrate.We wanted to get actively involved in the shaping of our city, especially around culture, creating more visibility and new, different space. A space for art, culture, and life.
Tell me a bit more about where you are coming from?
Studying something creative was always my created childhood dream. After finishing my degree as product designer at the Dutch Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts in 2001 I started by own designer label, PYG®, developing my own concept and taking them from idea to finished product.
My focus was on bags, furniture and accessories – always with the principle of fair trade and local production in mind. Through attending trade-fairs around the world in places such as Milan, Paris and Tokyo I also marketed the products myself, and developed a large creative network. It was a very exciting period of my life where I learned a lot.
However, when looking at what’s happening in our world, the consumer society and our growth-focused system I started to ask myself, how many more new products does our world really need? Perhaps it was time to rethink radically? As a designer you are the starting point of the production chain, and one has more influence on the how, where and what of production that you might think. In my view that brings with it huge responsibility. Since 2011 I aim to spread this view through my teaching at the department of design as well as the department of engineering at the University of Applied Science Aachen.
Have you got some examples of your approach and projects?
In the past we had already created a large, interdisciplinary network of creatives designmetropole-aachen with which we curated exhibitions, unusual networking events, artistic performances, euro-regional series of talks, and assorted guerrilla marketing activities that created awareness for us.
For example, amongst others, there was the event series ‘Blind Dates – internal and external networking of culture and the creative industries’ where we brought people from the creative industries, business, government and politics together for professional speed dating – in the dark. The advantage of this approach was that it eliminated any visually-driven prejudices. This is a project we undertook for the ‘Gründerzentrum Kulturwirtschaft’, together with a colleague from our network, Fabian Seibert.
We want to apply our creativity in a meaningful way, yet definitely without . When you want to give an impulse to change behaviour, it should be in a way that the individual enjoys doing things in a different way.
How did HOTEL TOTAL come about?
It was summer 2014 when between my sister, Julia Claire Graf who is an event manager and communications designer, and a lovely colleague of ours, Anke Didier who is a fashion designer and project manager, and myself the desire grew to develop something entirely new.
Every Friday we would meet to brainstorm. Out of many wild creative concepts the concept for HOTEL TOTAl eventually emerged. A project which combined interdisciplinary approaches in a meaningful way.It connects the topics of space and re-purposing, development of new ways of working and organisational structures, tourism, integration and social considerations. It brings people and culture together, strengthens a sense of community and shows, how attractive and innovative Aachen can be. A shared excitement and gut feel convinced us that we definitely had to pursue this idea.
How did you manage to get funding, and what are next steps?
We invested a lot of time and energy to get our concept down on paper so we could present it to representatives of government and politic. While this did not lead to funding we got a lot of positive feedback and were pointed towards a programme by North Rhine Westphalia and the European Union, Create.Media.NRW, which supports innovative projects in the culture and creative scene with up to 80%.
Due to the almost imminent deadline we had to manage the extensive proposal in January 2015 with in 8 days; this included setting up a company, and convincing banks to lend us the remaining 20% of the capital required as this was a prerequisite for applying.
A very exciting time, with a large sleep deficit ;-).
All the greater was the joy when we received the go-ahead in May 2015: ours was one of 15 out of 49 projects that had been chosen by the jury. Since then we have been going full throttle to ensure that our vision stays alive in the long run.
How might people be able to support you?
We are delighted about anyone who supports our vision, talks about it and helps to spread it. We are also planning a crowdfunding campaign to get the starting capital to make a follow-up project to HOTEL TOTAL possible.
Model of one of the bedrooms …
… and how the built room looked like
What kind of advice would you give someone who seeks to engage others in cultural and societal change (innovation)?
No risk – no fun! Be yourself. Figure out what you really want. Dare, live for your dreams and visions, while that is generally not the easiest and most comfortable way, there is no greater fulfilment.
Dear Patricia, thank you for your your wonderful refreshing perspective, your passion, and your courage. The work of you and your colleagues shows how creativity and thinking differently creates awareness, and truly can make a difference, in a very positive sense.