Coming off a six-hour red eye flight poses a challenge to getting a proper night's sleep. I end up dosing through the entire hour-ish journey from Incheon Airport to arrive noticeably bleary-eyed at RYSE, the newest member of Marriott's Autograph Collection and its second in Seoul. It was at this point, while yawning and dragging my luggage from the airport van that my design-loving spidey senses kicked in.
What a sight for sore eyes. I spotted the pink lacquered floor that extends across RYSE's lobby, rendered delightfully glossy by the morning sunlight pouring in and the iridescent rainbows escaping onto it through a filtered glass railing. These candy tones are offset by walls in raw textured concrete, white marble, brass accents and a mix of eye-catching street-influenced artworks. A hanging sculpture made of baby blue-sprayed shelf brackets by Korean artist Kwon Kyung Hwan makes me look up to notice the giant puncture in the ceiling, peeking into the third floor check-in lobby. I'm wide awake now — slick design has that effect.
Key tenets need to be met to be part of the Autograph Collection, Marriot International's assembly of distinctive and independent hotels. First and foremost, each one-of-a-kind hotel has to ground in the founder's distinct vision, one that encompasses an utmost dedication to design, craft and the locale. Its guests are travellers who are looking for an individualistic experience like nothing else. RYSE has endeavoured to achieve this by appealing to the creative class. Why this decision and just what does it take to be a hotel for creatives?
Hongdae is the answer
It was RYSE's location in Hongdae that kickstarted founder, Leo Moon, CEO of Aju Hotels & Resorts, to initiate extensive research into the neighbourhood seven years ago with the help of four friends from graduate school. The aim was to understand the longstanding youth culture associated with Hongdae since the '90s due to its proximity to Hongik University. How do you tap into the resulting creative energy that influences the district? Fifty years on, Hongdae is home to Seoul's urban arts scene and underground club culture. It's still Seoul's epicenter for upcoming talent who sing, dance and busk street side.
"Our team is focused on showcasing the energetic culture of Hongdae to global travelers and fostering a creative community for people to gather and connect." - Jaisun Ihm, RYSE's general manager.
It takes a creative to know one
An impressive international artistic team was engaged to take on the task of making RYSE an iconoclastic hotel for creatives. Key collaborators were Hong Kong-based branding and design agency, Marc & Chantal, who previously worked on the adaption of the Autograph Collection brand for Asia. Their graphic style is seen throughout the final project, most notably in a paint-stroke font created for RYSE, visible on every floor, executed as window tints. To indicate the level of each floor, they've hand-painted directly onto the wall in expressive DIY strokes.
The building was undertaken by lead architect Steven Song of LA-based firm SCAAA since 2011, having done the research and design for projects like the new Philippine Stock Exchange building and the DoubleTree Dallas Market Center. For the interiors, Michaelis Boyd — the London-based architecture firm behind notable hotel and F&B properties like Soho House Berlin and Groucho Club in London — was enlisted, working closely with Seoul-based architectural design consultancy, intg.
"Rough textures visualize the rawness, glossiness portrays a sense of luxury," shared Ben Masterton-Smith, the former lead designer from Michaelis Boyd
The in-house creative team, led by RYSE brand director, Jason Schlabach (who's also the co-founder and art director of the indie Bite Me magazine) is responsible for the hotel's art curation, partner tenants and the ongoing content programming that aims to set RYSE apart, shaking up the notions of what one expects from a hotel.
It's all in the programming
Rather than competing on amenities, RYSE has taken a less conventional route by choosing to focus on content and partner programming instead. From bringing on board world class F&B brands and culturally significant retailers to hosting regular events, workshops and exhibitions, their content appeals to a global and mobile creative audience.
Much like an open, imaginative mind, the lines and concepts within RYSE are blurred intentionally. In fact, the hotel does not have a front or a back entrance to merge more seamlessly into the energy of both streets. Take the alley side, which mirrors Hongdae's retail offering and offers direct access to RYSE's more public spaces. Occupying the entire floor of the basement is Arario Gallery, one of Korea's most established art players. With this second gallery in Seoul, it intentionally showcases more experimental work to match the artistic spirit of the area.
On the ground level, two concepts by famed San Francisco bakery Tartine [Coffee Bar] and [Toast Bar] open out invitingly onto the street. On the third floor, a lounge space shared by Korean multi-label streetwear store Worksout and the RYSE creative team's office lets guests and shoppers mingle and hang out. Designed by architect Andrew Caputo, Worksout occupies three floors of the hotel. The sprawling concept store cleverly visually merchandises with upcycled vintage furniture that's been given a KAWS-like treatment, turning them each into one-off usable works of art.
Around the corner, guests check in at a waiting lounge with a well-stocked library of design books and publications to browse.
For its main dining offering, RYSE has chosen to steer away from Korean cuisine. Since the neighbourhood is a haven for around-the-clock Korean street eats, they've brought in Australian chef David Thompson's casual Thai gourmet restaurant, Long Chim.
By night, Side Note Club pulses with activity. The hotel's swish rooftop bar and lounge is where Boyd's penchant for cosy booth seats and jewelled toned velvets shines through. RYSE has partnered with three bartenders from one of Seoul's best cocktail bars — Le Chamber — to bring their world championship skills to a world class view on the 15th floor. It's not just about the drinks, as an impressive vinyl collection behind the console suggests. When I snuck a peek, it was packed to the brim with rare groove, hip-hop and urban jams from across the decades. Here, you'll be able to catch renowned Korean DJ Soulscape playing a vinyl-only set all night.
Tools of the trade
To engage with the creatives amongst their hotel guests and the local community, RYSE has invested in some unexpected artistic tools. An original Risograph printing machine and a vinyl press are both available for guests to use through workshop sessions. The Risograph printing effect and technique are definitely a signature within the hotel, with many of the rooms displaying its unique graphic artwork creations, through to the menus at Side Note Club when you're ordering drinks.
The rooms and creature comforts
RYSE features 272 guest rooms including 14 suites. Staying away from standard room categories, you can opt to stay in the Creator Room, the Editor Room, the Director Room and finally, the 217-square metre Executive Producer Suite, their equivalent of a presidential suite that's large enough to hold the launch press conference we were attending. Completing this experience is an indoor jacuzzi, a selection of art works and a graphic wall by renowned Korean graphic designer, Na Kim. On my next stay, I'll be opting for the Artist Suite by Seoul-based sculptor Yeojoo Park, who redefines space with light and polychromatic films. It's an iridescent haven.
While the Creator Room is RYSE's most basic category, it still feels like a good size. This is in large part due to everthing being kept as open as possible, a design philosophy that was translated to all room categories. This meant using glass to divide the room from the bathroom with pulled down shades for privacy and making all doors — including the wardrobes — fully retractable. For this reason, I didn't realise that the full length mirror was mounted behind the bathroom door until the final day of my stay.
For fellow eco-conscious travellers, you'll appreciate the fact that all toiletries are fixed, full-sized and refillable. Disposables like toothbrushes and cotton pads are packed in paper instead of plastic, while all bins have separate compartments for recycling.
For a brief introduction to the capital, the city guide that's loaded on the smart phone in the room recommends hip spots to check out. Before heading out, a complimentary welcome teapot of Makgeolli, Korea's milky sparkling rice wine, should get you off to a buzzy start. Together with delicious deep-fried rice flour balls stuffed with kimchi, RYSE's complimentary teasers are a taste of what's to come from Seoul's creative heart.
For more information or to book a room, visit RYSE Hotel.