Welcome to Sister City NYC, a hotel earnestly designed for humans: regards freedom in comfort and connection, maximizes intuitive technology, and inspires a self-guided experience.
Words and Interview by Reena Mesias
Layout by Karla Espiritu
New York is a city of abundance, energy, and diversity, built in and around a scarce land and rapid stream of commerce. There is not much room to move nor space to breathe until the opening of Sister City NYC. The Serious Review talks to Kelly Sawdon, Chief Brand Officer and Partner of Atelier Ace/Ace Hotel Group, who explains how spaces influence each other, how they can come to life through little nuances and details, and how transformative spaces can be when they are built through humane and tender perspectives.
Do you remember how the space was like before Sister City NYC opened?
Sister City is on Bowery in the Lower East Side, one of Manhattan’s oldest, most storied throughways. We fell in love with its history and culture and have been long admirers of our neighbors there, including legendary institutions like New Museum. The building itself is historic and offered us the opportunity to flex a new creative muscle in reimagining compassionate hospitality for a contemporary traveler.
What’s been the effect of Sister City NYC in the area, if there was any?
While the hotel is very new, it offers a distinctly grounding and mindful experience within the hum of the city’s vibrant 24/7 spirit. You enter through natural foliage, which immediately and organically transports you from the noise of the street into a calm space that feels wholly unique in New York. From the autonomous, self-guided care to the simple, beautiful design, Sister City is a balance of intuitive technology-driven hospitality and mindful interiors that provide a sense of belonging to the present moment.
And our public spaces have already become a convergence of art, music, and culture. Last Light, our rooftop bar, has two outdoor decks and spectacular views of the city. Open to the public, it’s a generous host that offers unparalleled skyline sights and drinks as well as nightly programming from legendary artists and DJs.
Describe your average Sister City NYC guest.
Sister City was meticulously designed to appeal to any guest that appreciates a confident sense-of-self seeking a space that respects autonomy, intuitive technology and self-guided hospitality. It’s a place that gives to you, rather than takes from you, and its balance of functional design with aesthetic nourishment is a comfortable and intimate springboard for the guests themselves to animate. It’s also for the guest who prefers flexibility—with self-check kiosks, modular furniture and diverse room types (like our Bunk Rooms which are a modern, grown-up take with plenty of living space), Sister City is generously equipped to fit the various needs of different traveling styles.
Every part of the hotel seems to reflect your commitment to introducing a one-of-a-kind guest experience. What are the challenges for such cases considering that it’s personalized to your guests?
As a team, we’re constantly looking for new opportunities to experiment, push culture forward and take risks in uncharted avenues of hospitality. We work within a wellspring of ideas that are constantly evolving and growing. We’re human-oriented, so with everything we do, we try to create ways to take exceptional care of people in interesting angles and develop unique experiences for our guests whether it’s centered around design, food and drink or much needed restorative sleep after a day of traveling or exploring the city. I think contemporary travelers have an innate sense of what’s authentic and sincere, and notice the details as much as we do—and we pay a lot of attention to the details. We never build hotels from a blueprint, but pour our energies in creating new prototypes for compassionate hospitality and hope it strikes a chord with others.
Some of the hotel’s best features highlight the value of sound like, you have your own generative lobby score. How do you think sound plays in the entirety of a space? Any dream artists to collaborate with?
Music has always been one of the core tenets in all our projects. For Sister City, we wanted to create a soundscape as part of the design, instead of layered atop of it. We feel lucky to have found the right collaborators for our generative Lobby Score project, which uses Microsoft AI technology to shift and redirect Julianna Barwick’s original composition as informed by a sky camera on our rooftop. It’s another way that Sister City delivers a sensitive and organic link to the surrounding environment via technology in an artful and interesting way… Because we were listening to Brian Eno’s site-specific ambient project “Music for Airports,” he’d be a dream artist we’d love to collaborate with.
You also partnered with Headspace. How important is designing for mental health these days?
Our partnership with Headspace allowed us to offers guests their meditative service to recenter and orient themselves in the present moment, fostering a sense of attention and self-care while traveling in one of the busiest cities in the world. We live in a time where there can be a lot of distraction, and we wanted to build a space that gives to you, rather than takes from you. We kept that in mind when thinking about how compassionate hospitality could facilitate moments to relax, refocus and reenergize in meaningful ways.
Why do you think design hotels have become a worldwide trend?
I think that the root of human experience isn’t a trend. We all want to feel a sense of belonging, of being well cared for and to feel connected to a place and to each other—no matter where we are in the world. As a whole, we’ve gotten better at designing for these experiences, rather than around them, and the conversation is still evolving.
What was Sister City NYC inspired by?
Sister City was inspired by the things and ideas that help push those conversations forward. We were inspired by the functional perfection of Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes, John Cage’s 4’33” and the philosophy of Montessori Schools, of providing freedom and tools within a thoughtfully designed environment to foster a sense of discovery and autonomy.
What other things do you like that embody “Less, But Better?”
As a new mom, the small, simple moments I get to spend with my son are both humbling and precious—just napping with him is a “Less, But Better” experience that focuses my attention on the importance of being present in the moment.
And I think food can perfectly embody “Less, But Better,” choosing quality ingredients and letting them shine. Floret, the ground floor restaurant at Sister City, takes that philosophy and offers restorative dishes that highlight individual ingredients that nourish you instead of just filling you up.