An Iconic Hotel Lobby Gets a High-Tech Makeover in Puerto Rico

NEW YORK—Experiential-design firm Cactus has reimagined the hotel bar concept with its technology to create a sculptural “Cubic Sky” inside of La Concha, an iconic beachside hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“The client was looking to renovate a space that was being used inefficiently for conferences and events. The space is on the lower level of the iconic beachside hotel. Despite being poorly lit and literally a sub-level to the rest of the hotel common spaces, it had direct beach views,” said Noah Waxman, head of strategy, Cactus, which is based here.

The Cactus team developed a concept called Cubic Sky, which is designed to bring some of the natural beauty of the beach outside into the lower level rooms.

“It is a dynamic light sculpture that changes over the course of the day to remain appropriate across many different use case scenarios,” said Waxman. “It can be a beautiful chandelier during the day—during a financial conference or a wedding, for example. At the end of the day, the light sculpture mimics the sunset outside while people sit and enjoy drinks below. And, at night, the lights change entirely creating a unique and thrilling night club and live music event space reacting to the thumping beat of the music.”

Cactus’ Cubic Sky sculpture is controlled through an app.

A key component that makes Cubic Sky different from other modular lighting solutions in the market is the app.

“The entire sculpture is controlled through a novel, simple iPad app,” he said. “This is what enables the huge range of uses. It also amplifies the nightclub experience because, unlike just about any other event or party space, the controls are given directly over to the DJ or artist. An infinity of patterns, reactions and interactions can be displayed across the canvas of the entire sculpture.”

For Cactus, this is its sweet spot as an experiential design studio that creates work at the intersection of physical architecture and digital technology. Founded three years ago by Waxman, Lucas Werthein and Marcelo Pontes, the co-founders come from the branding strategy, technology engineering and architecture worlds, respectively, and they started the company purposefully to bridge these three disciplines. Using brand, technology and architecture, the firm aims to create new types of spaces, experiences and products that span physical and digital space.

“Cactus works with visionary leaders across a range of industries, including media, fitness, health & wellness, entertainment and art to help them dream up and execute on what is next in retail, architecture, and experience and product design,” said Waxman. “Artificial intelligence, data visualization, dynamic content creation and immersive environments are key elements of our work. Core services include architecture, interior design, product design, digital technology integration business strategy and branding. All client work is united by one objective—to imagine, design, and build what is next.”

Before the launch of Cactus, the founders worked with a range of hotel brands such as the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Marriott and Hilton.

“Our first hotel client as Cactus was the historic La Concha hotel in Puerto Rico,” he said. “Currently, several hospitality projects are in the works, including a new hotel brand that is opening multiple U.S. locations in the coming years with a truly innovative property in Miami.”

Cactus’ Cubic Sky brings in some of the natural beauty of the beach indoors.

At the La Concha, Waxman and the team sought to develop a sculpture that would mimic the patterns of nature.

“There were a lot of tests and iterations to arrive at the current shape of the sculpture,” he said. “We went through iterations of waves, geometric patterns, different distributions. We ended up designing Cubic Sky because it was the best way we found to modulate, scale and create different sculptures with the same core unit. La Concha has a very specific geometric look. In the future, we could use the same product for another project and have a completely different look and feel.”

From a technology point of view, they wanted to develop software that is stable and scalable.

“We ended up developing custom software that gives the client total control of what can be done with the lights,” he said. “Using intuitive interface design, we produce a tablet app that gives them control over numerous algorithmic animation, colors, speed, brightness and generative forms of movement.”

For Waxman and the team, all of Cactus’ work lives at the intersection of digital technology and physical architecture.

“We create projects using new and innovative technologies but never simply for the sake of that technology’s newness,” he said. “Cactus believes that technology should always live in service to the greater creative ambitions of the project or client. Showcasing technology, no matter how interesting that technology is today, will never remain interesting on the time scale of good architecture which—we all hope—will last decades or longer.”

The Cubic Sky concept is just one example of the creative spirit of this new brand as they work to build creative solutions for the community within and outside of the hotel environment.

“Guests of the hotel love it because they have never seen anything like it before,” he said. “The hotel operator/owners love it because it allowed them to reclaim and capitalize on a space in the hotel by bringing new energy and capabilities to the physical space both day and night. The community in San Juan loves it because they now house a truly world-class nightclub destination. Performers and DJs see it as a nontraditional club space (part of the hotel lower level) and love it because they can control the whole system through the intuitive app.”