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Gaia Studio fuses heritage and contemporary design to create Central America’s first W Hotel

Gaia Studio fuses heritage and contemporary design to create Central America’s first W Hotel

Gaia Studio, Hotel design, Interior design, Interiors, W Hotel

The first W hotel in Central America, the W Panama, opened its doors to the public in March this year. Located within the 50-floor Evolution Tower, the hotel makes a befitting addition to Panama City, towering over the heart of the business district.


The reception desk gives a peek into the hotel’s eclectic style.

According to Anthony Ingham, global brand leader, W Hotels Worldwide, “Panama City is one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in Central America, a fusion of new and old, east and west, business and hedonism. Like our guests, all W Hotels seek destinations that are inspiring and multi-dimensional. So Panama City is a natural fit.

“W Panama embodies the spirit of Panama, showing off the style and energy of this diverse global hub with an intricate design that pays homage to both the history of the region and its bright future.”

The hotel has been designed by Studio Gaia, an interior design firm based in New York and Seoul, and it reconstructs the city’s past and present with distinct hues and textural contrasts.


Food truck-style La Cajita is a riot of colours and textures.

The design concept especially emphasises on the iconic Panama Canal while integrating the city’s history and colourful indigenous patterns.

Studio Gaia has worked on several W Hotels previously and won numerous awards. The W Bogota, also designed by Studio Gaia, features interiors that draw much of its inspiration from Colombia’s legend of El Dorado.

“After our huge success with W Bogota back in 2014, for which we received numerous design awards, we were appointed to design the 203-key W Panama hotel in the heart of Panama City,” says Seuk Hoon Kim, partner and creative director, Studio Gaia – Seoul.


Moro restaurant is filled with Panamanian artisanal influences such as those seen in handcrafted lamps.

The firm focused on integrating local aspects into the design concept.

“As we have been designing W hotels globally, including W Mexico City, W Seoul, and W Bogota, we always envision our hotels to incorporate all aspects and all layers of the location that have been given to emphasise locality. Same with W Panama as well, and our team went through research on all levels to harmonise different aspects of locality into the design,” he said.

There are several instances of this integration throughout the hotel. For example, the hotel makes use of five shipping containers, similar in look to those often found along the Panama Canal, to transform them into areas where guests can connect and socialise with one another.


Full length windows offer panoramic views of the city.

These containers, situated in the hotel’s lobby, the 635m2 pool deck and destination bar, named Cargo, have been transformed with original graffiti painted by Diablos Rojos-inspired artist, Oscar Melgar.

Guests enter the hotel on the 15th floor, and are immediately greeted by a playful modern design of these disused shipping containers.

“Translating Panamanian culture in a modern way, which would have a strong visual impact was a critical issue. We tried to express these nuances throughout the hotel, and especially with the interior of the guestrooms,” says Kim.


Wine cellar provides a backdrop for the lounge area in Moro restaurant.

The rooms and suites in the hotel feature murals as well as ‘modern twists’ of the handmade fabrics worn by the indigenous Guna and Emberá people of Panama and Columbia.

“In order for us to design this hotel to harmonise the city’s past and present, we wanted to incorporate distinct hues and play with textural contrast throughout the hotel spaces. For instance, the back wall of the reception in the lobby area is panelled with various patterns and colours of fabrics to emphasise the vibrant and energetic spirit of Panamanian culture,” says Kim.


Living Room lounge has an easy, laidback feel, accentuated with surface textures and colours.

Despite a heavy focus on aesthetics, aspects of functionality and practicality haven’t been ignored.

The guestrooms, which offer views of the nearby bay and the Panama Canal, are spacious and fitted with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. They have also been provided with creative and modular seating which offers plenty of space to lounge.

The bathrooms, meanwhile, have been fitted with individually-lit vanity counters and dressing areas.


Cargo nightclub welcomes guests with bold graphics and tactile walls.

Other facilities of the hotel include a 325m2 fitness centre, called FIT, as well as a spa. W Panama also offers 1,950m2 meeting and event spaces. This includes six meeting rooms, and the ‘Great Room’, which offers view of the city through floor-to-ceiling windows and is used to host ‘grand events’.

Diablos Rojos-inspired artworks have also been installed in breakout areas.


The event hall, called the Great Room, has been designed such that even being indoors, guests can feel the surrounding city buzz.

While large-scale art pieces may seem out of place in a boardroom to many, Kim believes they add energy to the serious space.

“We doubt it will be a big issue and distract a meeting inside the space. As the artworks are located on the side where the rooms are exposed to curtain wall outside. These elements give energy to the rooms and do not conflict with the function of the meetings.”


Guest suites continue to carry forward the quirky style in a more subtle manner.

One of the biggest challenges the company had to face was in the execution of the project as the hotel was situated far away from Studio Gaia’s office in New York.

“The biggest challenge was to solve the disadvantage of having the distance between New York and Panama City. In order to expect the outcome of the construction to be the same as our design intent, we had to produce the document package as detailed as possible. To be as precise as possible, all the detailed drawings were produced by us in order to show how we imagined our design,” says Kim.

You can also take a look inside the first W Hotel in Dubai, designed by Singapore-based firm Silverfox Studio.

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