Hans Meyer and Marc Jongerius:
Well, Zoku is a new category in the hospitality industry, combining the best parts of hotels, serviced apartments and co-working spaces with the vibrant community you might expect to find in a thriving neighbourhood. We combine life, work and play for the globetrotting professional - serving as a cosy home, an inspiring office, and definitely more than just a hotel. We’re suitable for stays from one night all the way to a few months.
Our social structure is our fundamental differentiator - every hospitality outlet, including AirBnB, can offer you four walls and a door. Traditional hospitality design philosophy makes the bed the dominant feature, with important living features such as a desk, a chair, and storage thrown in at the end of the design process - it’s cramped, awkward and not suitable for much other than sleeping.
We challenged this idea - why make one of the most private functions of the room the most prominent? In our Lofts, a big table is the focal point - you can host dinner parties, or use it as your workstation - whatever you like.
Zoku is the Japanese word for family, tribe or clan. In the 1980s, joining a Zoku was a cultural phenomenon in Japan, where people with the same lifestyle or interests lived together. You could end up with an “OPUMO Zoku”, for example, in which followers of OPUMO would spend lots of time together or even move in with each other.
We know that the “soft product”, that is to say the human contact you have, can truly make or break a stay. Upon arrival, you are greeted by our staff, the Sidekicks. If you’re staying with us for a while, you can book in an extended welcome chat with our community manager, who will introduce you to our rituals like weekly events for the community.
We believe that you should feel comfortable and at ease from the very first point of contact, and we feel that the freedom to communicate and connect in a natural, organic way is very important in creating a sense of home.
Our interior design was developed in collaboration with Amsterdam-based design firm Concrete. We defined the concept and worked through a whole range of possible designs, looks and feels to arrive at the final design. We chose a timeless, minimalist look for our furnishings from Scandinavian design house Muuto.
Our public area breaks the mould of hotel entrances - situated atop the hotel as opposed to the front door, the Social Space encourages work, networking and socialising. Elsewhere, our greenhouse and our public rooftop garden offer residents and locals alike a chance to experience the tranquility and beauty of nature in the middle of an urban environment, well above street level and with a great view down towards the famous Museumplein.
Hans: We started working on Zoku around 2010. It essentially took 6 years from the start of the project to the first guest being welcomed.
To truly understand the needs of our target market, I set off to experience the global nomad lifestyle for myself - I lived 6 months in Buenos Aires, Washington DC and Bali. A very hard life, isn’t it? I did learn a lot from it: about the importance of making our concept as welcoming and homely as possible; making sure our guest experience focuses on genuine human interactions and ensuring that our residents always have something to do; and just feeling valued as a human being when you have no one else to turn to.
Marc: In 2014, we obtained the lease on the vacant, listed Metropool Building in central Amsterdam. We used the real space to build prototype rooms for testing and evaluation. We had our research confirmed by The Future Laboratory and even used EEG brain scanning to test one of our prototype Lofts. In total, 400 people helped us create our concept. We could see how different aspects of the design were causing stress or pleasure - many of these lessons were implemented into the final design.
After putting so much effort and thought into developing the concept, we were so pleased to see our Social Spaces create a big splash in the local area and attract people from all around the world to come and see Zoku.
We thankfully caught this before it caused any lasting damage and implemented a full co-working membership programme - WorkZoku. By phasing in memberships we’ve managed to regain control of our spaces - during the day you now see a bustling crowd of dedicated working individuals. That’s not to say we’re not open to the world - we certainly welcome anyone coming for a meal, for a drink or to relax, and we welcome those looking to do some work on a day-pass basis too.
Hans Meyer and Marc Jongerius: Amsterdam has been a great market for us to launch in. We’re happy to be based here, and have had an incredible reception from international visitors and crucially the local community too - we’ve taken a plain office building on a stretch of road once voted the “ugliest in Amsterdam”, and transformed it into a thriving neighbourhood spot.
We’re fortunate with our location - we’re on the “Knowledge Mile”, a stretch of road with WeWork, The Student Hotel and the Volkshotel, as well as the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) and Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA). These local connections have helped us grow and resulted in increased positive word-of-mouth.
Marc Jongerius: We have just announced the first phase of our international roll-out. We will be bringing our innovative concept and design to the beautiful, thriving cities of Copenhagen and Vienna in 2020.
Hans Meyer and Marc Jongerius:
First and foremost, if you’re not looking, you might miss the door! If you’ve managed to find that, then you can take the elevator to the 6th floor, where there is birdsong playing in our greenhouse 24/7 to enhance the natural feel. In the social spaces, you might miss our 3D printer - which you’re free to use- our pet goldfish Toby, or the board games and Wii U in our game room.
In the Lofts, we occasionally hear that people haven’t been adventurous enough and miss out on opening all the doors in the room - do play around with everything.
We don’t like to specify our personal favourites - instead, we chose to develop a “Neighbours’ Guide” of curated locations around central Amsterdam, based on our community’s favourites.
Personal and professional lifestyles are rapidly evolving. In just 15 years, we’ve seen the world of work change entirely. When we started working on Zoku in 2010, WeWork had a single location, Google Drive was 2 years away, and €350 return tickets to South East Asia were a traveller’s dream. Revolutions can happen so quickly - you’ve got to be prepared to adapt quickly.
We believe strongly in the adage “the world doesn’t need more stuff, it needs smarter solutions”. The hospitality industry, even with superficial innovations and attempts at breaking free of the past, is stuck in the past. The traditional focus point of “heads in beds” continues to lead the thoughts of the industry, and rarely does any consideration stray to the idea of placemaking and community building.
We’re changing this - creating spaces which adapt to you, rather than the other way around. We embrace the multi-use ecosystem - a sustainable, future-proof and integrated place where you can feel comfortable and live your life the way you want, alongside globally minded peers.
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