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Academy of Art Students School of Interior Architecture and Design, Compete in Accor Design Awards with Groundbreaking Sofitel Hotel Concept

A quartet of talented students from the Academy of Art University’s School of Interior Architecture and Design—Madison Leighty, Talya Parmaksiz, Cheyla Marrero, and Npatchanan Sasiworasad (Bee)—are making waves in the prestigious International Accor Design Awards, having already ascended to the quarter-final round.

This competition celebrates Sofitel’s 60th anniversary by reinventing the future of luxury hospitality through immersive, contemporary, and conscious design.

The challenge is to design the ground floor, entrance, and lobby of a Sofitel hotel to foster discussions about culture and the environment among guests and the local community.

The Competition

The Accor Design Awards invite students worldwide to reimagine luxury hospitality, blending Parisian sophistication with a chosen destination’s unique characteristics. This year, the competition attracted 91 schools and over 100 groups, with Madison, Talya, Cheyla, and Npatchanan’s team already making it to the top 10—a significant achievement as they are the only team from the West Coast and one of three from the US to reach this stage. They hope to advance to the top 3, sending them to Paris for the final judging.

Projects are judged by Accor’s hospitality directors based on several criteria:

  • Relevance to Accor hospitality and Sofitel’s brand.
  • Connection to the chosen location.
  • Integration of two locations (Paris and Iceland).
  • Sustainability practices.
  • The overall designed guest experience.

The Vision

Madison Leighty explained the project’s essence: “As this is Sofitel’s 60th diamond anniversary, we chose the diamond as our inspiration and Iceland as our hotel destination. We wanted to push ourselves as designers by selecting a unique location where you wouldn’t typically find a Parisian luxury hotel.”

Talya Parmaksiz added, “The challenge was to blend the cultures of—Paris and Iceland to create a transformative, not traditional, hotel experience.”

Design Elements

The team’s innovative concept, Demantin Hotel (meaning “diamond” in Icelandic), is deeply rooted in the theme of dazzling light and reflection, symbolizing the brilliance of a diamond. This concept draws inspiration from Iceland’s Diamond Beach, known for its sparkling ice boulders.

Madison highlighted the materials used: “We incorporated local, sustainable materials like basalt stone and Icelandic spar. The spar, a polarized crystal used historically by Vikings, became a focal point in our design, particularly in our chandelier, which refracts light beautifully, connecting Parisian elegance with Icelandic history.”

Cheyla Marrero emphasized the comprehensive design approach: “We had to design functional areas like the lobby, reception, restaurant, and back-of-house, ensuring the experience was exceptional for both guests and employees. Our unique design ensures guests are greeted with awe-inspiring elements like LED light installations and an atrium shaped to view the Northern Lights.”

The Team

The team credits their success to the diverse skills each member brought to the table. Madison is strong in concept development, Cheyla excels in renderings, Talya specializes in material choices and spatial planning, and Npatchanan contributes expertise in sketching and various design elements.

Talya remarked, “Our ability to symbolize our concept through design was crucial. For instance, our hotel facade uses recycled glass and basalt stone to represent a diamond emerging from its raw state.”

Madison concluded, “Our hotel is not just a place to stay; it’s an experience. The interplay of light, the unique cultural blend, and the use of sustainable materials create a transformative atmosphere. This competition allowed us to push the boundaries of conventional design.”

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Support and Recognition

The students emphasized that their professors at the Academy of Art University have been instrumental in their success, with advisors Tom Collom and Katie Valkuchak from ArtU’s Interior Architecture and Design School providing essential guidance.

Talya praised Tom and Katie, stating, “Tom and Katie were a huge help in guiding us and helping with every detail. They were our rock throughout this project.”

Madison also gave high regard to Tom and Katie, saying, “They treated us like colleagues, giving us just enough direction to push forward but never held our hand. They always gave professional feedback as if we were designing this for a real building project.”

As the students wait for the results of the quarter-final professional judging, you can contribute to their success. The People’s Choice Awards voting is open until June 28th. Please take a minute and vote for this talented team of ArtU designers


Stay tuned for updates on their journey, and join us in celebrating their remarkable achievements.

Academy of Art University in San Francisco

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