AHEAD Americas 2020

2020 Judging

AHEAD Americas is adjudicated by an independent panel of experts, comprising leading hospitality architects, designers, owners, operators, developers and industry commentators.

The judging process for AHEAD Americas has been carefully developed to ensure a rigorous, robust and balanced procedure is followed to select the final winners in each category.

Call for Entries
02 Dec 2019
Entry Deadline
28 Feb 2020
Judging Panel Announced
18 Feb 2020
Shortlist Announced
20 Apr 2020
Judging Day
07 May 2020
Awards Ceremony
10 Jun 2020

The judges for AHEAD Americas are acknowledged industry leaders, who represent a wide spectrum of the disciplines involved in delivering new hotel projects across the region.

Mari Balestrazzi

Director of Operations, Environments Design - Airbnb

Mari Balestrazzi is Director of Operations for the Environments team at Airbnb. Prior to her role at Airbnb, Mari was Vice President of Americas Design Services for Hyatt Hotels where she oversaw design for Hyatt's portfolio of full service brands. Previously, Mari was Senior Vice President of Design at Morgans Hotel Group where she was responsible for overseeing all design for the company and Director of Design for St. Regis Hotels at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Prior to her in-house roles, Mari was Studio Director for Aero Studios Limited in New York City where she oversaw new construction and renovation projects for both private residences and commercial projects, including 60 Thompson and Giorgio Armani’s private residence in New York.

Mark Boekenheide

Senior Vice President of Global Development - Las Vegas Sands Corporation

Mark Boekenheide, AIA, is the Senior Vice President of Global Development for Las Vegas Sands Corporation. In this role, he oversees all design, development and construction activities for properties in Las Vegas, Macau, Singapore and Japan.

Mark’s previous experience includes Senior Vice President of Design for the Related Companies, where he directed all design activities for Hudson Yards in NYC, and the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas; Vice President of Design and Construction for Rosewood Hotels and Resorts; and as Managing Partner for BBG-BBGM Architects and Interiors.

Mark is a graduate of Syracuse University, a licensed architect in 15 states, and a LEED-Certified design professional. A frequent speaker at hospitality-related events, Mark has taught Hotel Design and Development at Harvard University, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Syracuse University School of Architecture and the Editorial Advisory Board for Hospitality Design Magazine.

Ave Bradley

Creative Director & Global SVP of Design - Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

As Creative Director and Global Senior Vice President of Design for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Ave is responsible for the overall creative vision for the brand and is overseeing the design direction for the brand as it undertakes its international expansion.

Ave works closely with the development team in the evaluation of potential deals and establishes the high-level creative vision for projects by identifying trends, niches and opportunities in the marketplace. She engages the creative teams to help bring that vision to life and oversees day-to-day management of the design process. Collaborating closely with the marketing and brand teams, Ave helps cultivate a cohesive presentation across projects through the establishment of hotel names and the development of logos and graphics.

Ave started her hospitality career with W Hotels as Director of Interiors & Brand Development during the launch and expansion of the brand, opening the first 22 properties for W.

Sara Duffy

Principal - Stonehill Taylor

Sara Duffy graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and received her Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. With a background in art history and television, Sara crafts a unique, immersive narrative for each of her projects with a focus on thoughtful, classic design.

Sara's impressive variety of projects includes the Nomad Hotel and Bar in New York and its re-iteration in Las Vegas, the J.W. Marriott Nashville, and the iconic TWA Hotel at JFK Airport’s historic TWA Flight Center. She has worked with renowned hospitality developers such as the Sydell Group, Eleven Madison Park’s Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, Marriott International, Turnberry Associates, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

Sam Gelin

Founder - Craft Hospitality

Sam Gelin is an award-winning Hotel Developer and Founder of leading hospitality and experiential company, Craft Hospitality.

In September 2017, Sam opened MADE hotel in New York City, which was added to Condé Nast's Travellers Hot List as one of the Best Hotels in The World in 2018. Within the hotel, Sam created and launched three celebrated food and beverage concepts — Paper Coffee, Good Behaviour, and foodie favourite, Ferris. In April 2018, Michelin Guide announced that MADE's food and beverage program is the model for hotel restaurants based on quality.

Sam was included in Hotels Magazine's Rising Star List of Top 20 People in the Hotel Industry under 40 and recognised by Vanity Fair as having "a passionately personal understanding of today's traveller". In 2018, MADE was awarded the AHEAD Americas award for "Best Guestroom" in North & South America", and The Sunday Times announced Sam's hotel as "the best example of next-gen hotels".

Since 2011, Sam has lead the creation and execution of unique food and beverage experiences in over 11 cities around the world, which are regularly enjoyed by more than 30,000 people every year.

Alessia Genova

Managing Partner - Tihany Design

As co-lead of esteemed NYC atelier Tihany Design, Alessia embraces the mission of an ever-evolving industry, to elevate the luxury hospitality and leisure lifestyle with sensational custom interiors.

She has helmed projects for a variety of prestige hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruise, private clubs and estates, from the modern to the iconic. Her international body of work ranges from Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul, and Four Seasons Dubai DIFC, to Seabourn Cruise Lines and Hungary’s Sauska Winery in Tokaj; and she has collaborated with renowned chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Richard Ekkebus.

A graduate of Italy’s Politecnico di Milano, Alessia began her career at Tihany Design’s Rome office in 2007, earning successive promotions for her talent, expertise, leadership and mentorship, culminating with her appointment to Studio Director 10 years later.  In 2020, Founder & Principal Adam D. Tihany appointed Alessia as the first Managing Partner, ushering in a new chapter in the firm’s 43-year history.

Conde Nast Traveller named Alessia one of '12 People to Watch in 2022,' in recognition of her passion and international impact as a visionary force in custom design.

Verena Haller

Chief Design Officer - Standard Hotels

Verena Haller joined Standard International from Equinox Hotels, where she informed the creation of the Brand, Design Vision and Guest Experience for its new concept. She began her hospitality career with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, refining & honing her hospitality and design knowledge. For over a decade, Verena has worked with leading brands, designing for The W, Four Seasons, and James hotels. Verena went on to join Ian Schrager as EVP of Architecture and Design, working on and opening a variety of Edition Hotels and The Public Chicago. She later partnered with Morgans Hotel Group as SVP of Design, defining the brand’s next steps. She opened properties in London, Las Vegas, Istanbul etc., utilizing her expertise to help create the brand as it is today.

Currently Chief Design Officer for Standard International, she is helping to expand The Standard label and brand worldwide, with their first international property opening in London later this year. Verena’s unique innovative vision and refined eye for detail has greatly contributed to the overall success in the expansion and evolution of The Standard.

Gulla Jonsdottir

Principal - Gulla Jonsdottir Design

Gulla Jonsdottir is an Icelandic Architect, creating unexpected and poetic modern Designs from her eponymous Los Angeles & Paris based Design studios.

Known for her sensual and dynamic forms that work in harmony with their surroundings, Gulla's environmental compassion brings unique spatial experiences that respond to nature and surrounding site, always echoing the integration of organic beauty and function.

Gulla Jonsdottir studied mathematics & biology before moving to Los Angeles to study architecture at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture). Before starting her own firm in 2009, she worked for Richard Meier & Partners, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Dodd Mitchell Design.

Gulla and her International team have a reputation for holistic work across the fields of hospitality, commercial & residential design, museums & wellness projects worldwide, as well as having her own furniture line. Gulla has in her career worked on renowned projects in Paris, Japan, Mexico, Iceland, Beirut, Bahamas, China and USA.

Being selected as one of Top 50 Firms in Interior Design’s Power Grid, LA, Gulla Jonsdottir has in her career received several awards including Interior Design’s Best of year winner 2017 for Resort design: The Macau Roosevelt in Macau, China. Architectural Digest Best Bar in America for La Peer Hotel, Interior Design’s Nomination for Best Urban Boutique Hotel for La Peer Hotel, Interior Design’s Gold Key Award for Best Spa Design: Paz Spa at Cabo Azul Resort, “Best design of the Year” by Esquire magazine for the Red O restaurant in Los Angeles, Boutique Design’s Best Hotel Design: Cabo Azul Resort, Best Lighting Design: Cabo Azul Resort, Los Angeles Architectural Award of excellence for Red O Restaurant, and Hospitality Design Magazine award for Roxbury and Cabo Azul, Restaurant & Bar Design nomination for the the Library bar at The Mayfair Hotel, Los Angeles and Hyde lounge, Miami, as well as a nomination for Surface magazine’s best new hotel suites for Hotel G penthouses in San Francisco.

Some of her most notable projects are: The 2 Michelin star Le Grand Restaurant, by Jean-Francois Piege in Paris, La Peer hotel in West Hollywood, CA, The Macau Roosevelt hotel in China, Comal at Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, Los Cabos, Mexico, The Mayfair hotel, Los Angeles, Hotel G Penthouses in San Francisco, and the Renovation of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, with 15 more projects on the boards currently.

Greg Keffer

Partner / Studio Leader - Rockwell Group

Greg Keffer is a Partner and Studio Leader at Rockwell Group, where he oversees a wide variety of project types, including hospitality, retail, residential, and workplace environments. Greg's combined strengths in architecture, interiors, graphics, and branding allow him to develop innovative and holistic design solutions for a global roster of clients.

Current projects include Moxy Chelsea in New York, Nobu Hotel Barcelona, 15 Hudson Yards in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Warner Music Group Headquarters in Los Angeles, W Nashville, and the Kempinski Hotel Chengdu. Greg also has extensive luxury residential experience, including 111 Murray in New York, Sky in New York, and Station House in Washington, D.C. Other notable projects include the iconic New York restaurants Nobu Downtown and Union Square Cafe, NeueHouse in New York and Los Angeles, Chefs Club in New York, The Time hotel in New York, Hotel EMC2 in Chicago, the MGM Cotai, the Doheny Room and Nightingale Plaza in Los Angeles, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City and Five50 Pizza Bar at the Aria in Las Vegas.

Tony Machado

Senior Vice President Design - SH Hotels & Resorts

Tony Machado is Senior Vice President of Design for the hospitality leader and innovator, SH Hotels & Resorts, an affiliate of global private investment firm Starwood Capital Group, where he is leading all aspects of design for the company’s fast growing 1 Hotel, Baccarat Hotel, and SH Collection brands. 2022 hotel openings will include 1 Hotel San Francisco, 1 Hotel Nashville and 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay Kauai.

Prior to SH Hotels & Resorts, Tony was with Morgans Hotel Group where he served as Global Vice President and Head of Design and Construction for the expansion of all brands including Delano and Mondrian.

Tony attended Syracuse University’s School of Architecture in Florence Italy and San Diego State University where he received a BA with an emphasis in Environmental Design. Tony is a California state licensed architect.

Chad Oppenheim

Principal - Oppenheim Architecture + Design

Chad Oppenheim is a Miami-based architect whose work is praised for its ability to transform the prosaic into the poetic. A graduate of Cornell University and a Fellow of the AIA, Oppenheim has lectured widely and has taught at various architecture schools, including most recently at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

In 1999, he founded Oppenheim Architecture (Miami, Basel, New York). The international practice has received over 80 awards and distinctions, including the AIA’s highest distinction, the Silver Medal, and featured in numerous publications around the world. In 2018, Oppenheim Architecture was the recipient of one of the National Design Awards by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Markus Schreyer

Chairman – META Foundation

Markus is a global hospitality executive and experience-architect at the forefront of business development, innovation, experience design and technology. His career encompasses roles across 40 countries and 20 luxury brands in global hotel chains like Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; as well as leadership positions in lifestyle brands, including Senior Vice President Global Innovation at Design Hotels, a Marriott brand, and Chief Development Officer at Proper Hospitality.

His passion for fostering growth, accelerating startups, and developing new revenue streams in retail, experiences, and membership models for lifestyle brands through strategic innovation and human-touch points across multiple digital platforms has earned him recognition across industries.

As the co-founder and chairman of the META Foundation, a visionary hospitality innovation lab established in 2020, he accelerates global projects in cultural, social, and sustainable development. The foundation collaborates with governments, universities, and technologists across industries introducing impactful business models in living, travel, and community building enabled through AI, web3 and spatial computing.

Markus holds an MBA and a PhD in Innovation Strategy from the University of Dresden, Germany. He teaches competitive strategy at New York University (NYU) and lives in the city with his family.

Ilan Segal

Co-founder - Soulity

Ilan Segal has a relentless flair for innovation. His 24 years' experience as a highly successful hotelier spans two continents and is characterised by a daring creativity and innate knowledge of operations.

Born and raised in the hospitality world, Ilan was exposed to all aspects of the industry. Both a musician and photographer, Ilan has developed a profound understanding of how to enhance vibe and style, capturing the senses and spirit of our guests. He has introduced concepts that elevated the standard of hospitality, reflected in his impeccable track record.

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Ilan’s path includes Standard International, where he was Managing Director, The Leading Hotels of The World Headquarters, Starwood Hotels’ first W Hotel in New York City, Hotel Victor, The Tides and Marlin Hotels in Miami Beach, among other distinguished roles.

In 2008 Ilan took it a step further forming Soulity, a hospital consulting boutique firm. His first project was creating the iconic Tcherassi Hotel + Spa in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, followed by other hospitality and food and beverage experiences in The Americas, including Hotel Matilda, one of Mexico’s best boutique design hotels. Most recently, Ilan has led activations at Miami’s Design District as well as providing creative direction for Brookfield’s Hospitality’s division.

Jayson Seidman

Founder and Principal Managing Partner - Sandstone

Jayson Seidman is the Founder and Principal Managing Partner of Sandstone and its various affiliates, Drifter Hotels and The Basic®. Jayson has accumulated years of experience working for Goldman Sachs, LNR Property (now Starwood Capital), Credit Suisse, and most recently as the Head of Development for SHVO in New York. He has gained key knowledge concerning the financial implications and methods for developing ground-up or repositioning a property through pragmatic creative approaches, smart sustainable design, and problem mitigation.

His wide-ranging real estate knowledge includes a strong background in hotel finance, operations, design development, asset and portfolio management. He also possesses insight of acquisitions, as well as the structuring of capital for complex real estate transactions. Recent projects include 3 hotels in New Orleans; The Drifter, The Frenchmen and the Hotel Saint Vincent. In addition to this are The East Austin Hotel and The Basic Marfa; both based in Texas.

Larry Traxler

Senior Vice President, Global Design Services - Hilton Worldwide

Larry Traxler serves as Global Head of Design Services at Hilton Worldwide, overseeing the design of all of Hilton’s luxury, full and focused service hotel brands. Traxler and his global design team work closely with developers, architects, and designers to ensure that the unique style of each Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand is reflected across the properties within its global portfolio.

Traxler has amassed more than 20 years of international hospitality design experience working across luxury, boutique, full-service and focused-service hotel segments. Most recently he ran the Architecture & Design department for Hyatt Hotels North America & Caribbean, and prior to this served as the Design Director for Ian Schrager Hotels, Wilson & Associates, and Hirsch Bedner & Associates, focusing on hotel design and development operations.

His career began at the experimental architectural design office of Jordan Mozer & Associates, and Traxler holds a six-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree with a minor Professional Practice award from the University of Cincinnati.

Anne Wilkinson

Principal - BAMO

With 25 years of experience in luxury hotel and residential design, Anne Wilkinson brings an unparalleled amount of knowledge to each new project.

A New York native, Anne earned her Design degree from Cornell University, alongside interests in theatrical lighting, classical and modern dance. Named Principal of BAMO in 2017, she has contributed to the growth and success of the firm since its inception.

Working around the globe in vibrant urban or resort destinations, including some of the most pristine and sensitive environments, Anne has the ability to create settings that not only speak to the destination but also respect the people and place. Her strong understanding of the complexities of hotel design allow her to develop creative and innovative solutions that improve the overall guest experience and add to the client’s success. Anne infuses a marked sense of style and place into her elegant and cohesive designs.


The application of design and architecture to deliver great guest experiences are at the heart of AHEAD.

The criteria for success are based not only on creative excellence, but also on commercial viability.

As well as projects that are aesthetically impressive, the judges will be looking for evidence that winning designs have also met the needs of client and customers alike.

The judges will be looking for submissions showing rigorous and appropriate design, demonstrating a sensible use of budget to contribute to the guest experience as well as the 'theatre' of hotel life while satisfying the client brief.

Submitted material should demonstrate clearly why the project is thought to be worth an award in its chosen category and how the design sets the project at an award winning level.

Click here to see our AHEAD Checklist, which guides you through the entry process.