Celebrating music through design
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
Photography courtesy of Hard Rock International
Jay Pecotte has a pretty cool job. As senior director of project development for Hard Rock International hotels, he oversees the design and development of all new and existing properties in the Americas, spanning architecture and graphics. Attention to details, says Pecotte, successfully translates the iconic brand to an “immersive experience.” Here, he discusses Hard Rock’s venture into Mexico, architecture as problem solver, and honoring Santana.
You just opened the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis. Why was Panama an attractive market?
Panama is a huge hub for international travelers, and it’s got one of the highest—if not the highest—per capita incomes in Central America. The city has probably doubled in size in the last three years I’ve been visiting. Obviously, the canal [expansion] will have a huge impact, and since Panama City is right on the coast, it has a Caribbean island and big city feel at the same time.
Tell us about the property.
It’s huge—a sixty-six-story tower with one thousand five hundred guestrooms. It originally was slated to be a condominium project, and since most of the design was set in concrete, working with ba-haus/knf we basically had to layer in the memorabilia and what I like to call ‘rock and roll drippy’ aspects of our brand.
The rock-centric memorabilia and art displays are the light switch for our brand. That’s what turns the building on for our fans around the world. We were able to incorporate a lot of really cool [ones] just based on the sheer size of this project.
Saturated purple and red hues fill the Base Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis.
In addition to the memorabilia, what makes it a Hard Rock property?
We gravitate a lot towards purple and red, leathers, and it’s all about fashion and guitars. They all influence our design. With 555 International, we designed a brand new Rock Shop in the center of the lobby; it has a motorcycle chain chandelier and TV displays that are in a bling-y watchband and perforated metal surround that has a tattoo icon cut into it. And there’s a U2 Trabant car from a Zooropa tour that also has a prominent display in the lobby.
Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis’ energetic bar at
You also recently opened two new properties in Mexico—in Cancun with Gettys, 555, FODA Design, and AECOM; and in Nuevo Vallarta with Graham Downes Architecture, and once again, 555 and AECOM.
Cancun was a renovation of an existing six hundred-room hotel. When I first visited the property, it had this tree-like canopy at the porte-cochère, so the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Welcome to the jungle,’ which is [now] the lyric over the front door. Originally, our concept was loosely based on the luxurious days of travel—the glamour times when travel was really for the rich—so the materials and patterns of the early thirties are thread throughout.
A sprawling patio at the Sun Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta blurs the indoors and outdoors.
The Mexican properties are part of Hard Rock’s new All Inclusive Collection. What is the objective with this venture?
Our goal is to go into these projects and think of them much like a cruise ship, especially Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, with one thousand eight hundred rooms. Essentially you don’t really leave the property; you’re stuck on this large, two hundred twenty-acre complex.
Vallarta is a little bit smaller. It’s three hundred and forty eight guestrooms right on the ocean. It’s got a beautiful setting, but it has an eight-story lobby space and felt more like a museum to us, so we dubbed it the rock and roll museum. When we start a project, we always pick a guitar that’s going to be the icon; we picked the Santana guitar since he’s from the region. I had this lobby with these [massive] walls that were blank canvases. I was looking for the opportunity to do something really cool with cover art—a dying art the way music is going—so we created this huge mosaic of Santana playing the guitar out of two thousand eight hundred LP record covers.
The icon for our brand is this tribal tattoo, so on the other wall there’s this huge, fifty-foot-long tattoo made out of three thousand instruments—guitars, drums, keyboards, brass instruments, and cymbals. In our Panama property, we did a similar art installation made of different-sized cymbals going up the escalator to the second floor. It’s not in-your-face, blatant, theme-y design; it’s more about the discovery.
Vallarta’s towering lobby features two wall art installations: one crafted from 2,800 LP record covers, and one made of 3,000 instruments.
Next up is an all-inclusive property in Riviera Maya.
We are currently in design with Jeffrey Beers International, FODA, 555, Tandem, and AECOM. It’s another monster renovation project—one thousand two hundred and eighty eight rooms on two hundred and fifty acres. There’s a family side and an adult side. When I first went down there, I said, ‘Let’s concept this as a rock star’s hacienda in the Maya Riviera,’ and that stuck. There wasn’t a real nightclub, so we’re adding one. The pools are always a huge draw for our guests, but sometimes they get sunburned after day two and can’t go in the sun, so we have a covered pool experience that’s going to turn into a nightclub.
It’s great that you have so much inspiration to work with.
It’s a fun brand. Music always evokes a mood and touches everybody in a different way. There are some common threads—music and memorabilia—that run through our projects, but every one is different. We have standards that are really performance standards; they don’t tell you what kind of carpet and what color drapes to use. It’s really up to the designers to design with us.
A deep-soaking tub takes center stage in a guestroom at the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun.
How do you find and choose the designers you work with?
I’m always looking for fresh meat. I like to vary my designers within my projects. I think that’s what makes the properties more successful. We might have a spa designer, nightclub designer, and hotel and guestroom designer all involved in one project along with the landscape designer.
How are you responding to guests’ ever-changing needs?
Obviously, a resort hotel and a casino hotel get different guests, but a lot of ours are looking for the same thing: an authentic rock and roll experience. They know there’s going to be music, and they know there’s going to be memorabilia, but what we’re trying to do is give them those expected experiences in unexpected ways. Architecture is about problem solving. I always try to think like a guest—I watch them, listen to them, read the comments, and try to fill the voids.
Technology has been a huge influence. We were a Microsoft Surface test pilot for the Surface Silverlight program. We took our memorabilia collection, photographed it, and now guests can view it on what we call a ‘Rock Wall,’ which is basically a large iPad where guests can type in a star or a location or hit a piece of memorabilia and find out where it is, get a little history on it, and find other similar pieces.
And our properties have a vibe manager, who is responsible for creating the vibe in that venue, be it playing different music at different parts of the day, or interacting with guests. We like the music to start from the time guests enter our property to when they dive underwater. So if you want music, you’ve come to the right place. If you want quiet? Sorry.