AMES, Iowa — Projects by two teams of Iowa State University College of Design students and recent graduates are among four finalists in the student category of the 18th Hospitality Design Awards competition.

This national competition, sponsored by Hospitality Design magazine, recognizes outstanding design projects in 27 categories related to the hospitality industry.

The Iowa State finalists are:

  • “Maritime Gardens, Bahrain” by 2019 interior design alumna and current graduate student Nastassja Degarmo, from Kansas City; 2021 architecture alumni Danica DeWitt and Ben Olsen; and 2021 interior design alumnus Alex Retallick
  • “The Sand Stone, Bahrain” by 2021 architecture alumni Diandra Duenser and Caleb Sturtz; and 2021 interior design alumni Francisco Ordaz, Bailey Sinclair and Meghan Whitlock


The teams will be honored and the winning project announced at the HD Awards ceremony Tuesday, June 7, in New York City.

Both “Maritime Gardens” and “The Sand Stone” were developed in the interdisciplinary spring 2021 “Hotel Studio” taught by Lee Cagley, professor and chair of the ISU Department of Interior Design.

The class collaborated with Rob Reinders, ISU professor of practice in architecture, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Iowa State and retired from Marriott International after a distinguished career as vice president of design and project management; and Hisham Arafat, Middle East regional manager for Milliken & Company, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and a master of community and regional planning from Iowa State. Arafat helped identify the project site in Manama, Bahrain, and both he and Reinders provided guidance and feedback to students through virtual meetings and reviews.

Luxury resort hotel design

Students were asked to design a high-rise luxury hotel, spa and convention center for Water Garden City, a new mixed-use residential, commercial, hospitality and recreational development on the Persian Gulf in Manama. Working in interdisciplinary teams of architecture and interior design students, they were tasked with providing culturally appropriate, modern design proposals incorporating environmentally sensitive materials and approaches.

The “Maritime Gardens” concept juxtaposes modern and traditional Middle Eastern architecture and design, Degarmo said in a recent Zoom interview. Inspired by the Kingdom of Bahrain’s coat of arms, the hotel façade features an undulating pattern of sharp angles combined with organic shapes and provides outstanding views from the interior out to the Gulf. The team chose a biophilic color palette, primarily greens and grays, to create a calm, relaxing series of spaces, Degarmo said.

One of the project’s “wow” factors is the elevator shaft, an enclosed glass cylinder with a green wall lined in moss and plants, which provides a garden-like atmosphere, she said. In the lobby, recycled rainwater trickles over a textured glass wall to provide pleasant ambient waterfall sounds. Patterned screens on the building exterior create interesting shadows in guest suites and move with the sun to minimize interior heating.

Degarmo is also proud of the team’s design for the ballroom, where “windows wrapping up the wall across the ceiling give great views to the water and the night sky.”

“Maritime Gardens” and “The Sand Stone” both emphasize the use of eco-friendly materials like local wood and stone, and respond thoughtfully to the need for separate pool and spa facilities for men and women as well as a discreetly situated bar. Each project also includes prayer spaces to accommodate local and global religious practices.

The region’s sandy soils and limestone inspired “The Sand Stone” title, the team said in their HD Awards submission, and the structure’s blend of modern steel with stone demonstrates the tie between the built and natural landscapes.

“Since our project is organic in shape, this allows for the hotel not to have definitive ‘sides,’” said Duenser, now a project designer with ASK Studio in West Des Moines, via email.

“The complex exterior structure we created not only serves to hold the floors above one another but also acts as a screen, which helps reduce the natural heating of the building’s interior while framing views of the Persian Gulf for the hotel’s guests from each room.”

Duenser believes her team was most successful in “creating truly unique and captivating experiences” for guests, “whether it is the first glimpse of the hotel’s bold exterior structure as one drives up into its arms, the magnificent entry foyer that opens up to views of the Gulf, or the purity of materials to create the serene spa area.”

Degarmo and Duenser will both attend the HD Awards ceremony at Cipriani South Street in New York City.


Nastassja Degarmo, Graduate Student, Interior Design, ndegarmo@iastate.edu
Lee Cagley, Professor and Chair, Interior Design, lcagley@iastate.edu
Diandra Duenser, Alumna, Architecture, diandraduenser@gmail.com
Heather Sauer, Communications Director, College of Design, hsauer@iastate.edu