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How we will travel

What is the future of hotel design? With the rise of AirBnB and the sharing economy, have traveller expectations changed – and how do we meet their needs now and in the future?

At a recent roundtable debate, run by the Architectural Review in association with Grohe, leading architects discussed the global trends in hotel design. The event was chaired by AR’s editor Christine Murray and held at the World Architecture Festival.

Our expert panel featured:

Scott Allen, project designer and associate architect, Perkins + Will

Gökhan Avcıoğlu, principal and founder, GAD Architecture

Stephen Barry, director, global projects, Grohe

Jason Holley, director, Universal Design Studio

Christoph Ingenhoven, founder, Ingenhoven Architects

Ken Shuttleworth, founder, Make Architects

James Soane, director, Project Orange

Chiu Man Wong, founder, WOW Architects and Warner Wong Design

Other points of discussion included: What is socially responsible hotel design? How can we create hotel experiences which have a positive impact for both guests and the surrounding communities? And what are the challenges going forward – and where are the opportunities?

Below are some of the key themes and highlights of a vibrant debate.

Authenticity

Ken Shuttleworth: ‘People want to go to somewhere they feel they are really in the place. The old model of big international hotel brands which are the same everywhere around the world has changed. Architecturally that is quite a challenge. Projects have to work to international standards – but not be a pastiche. You have to abstract out the essence of a place and make the architecture come from that.’

Christine Murray: ‘Recreating authenticity can be automatically inauthentic.’

Jason Holley: ‘You’re highlighting the opportunities but also the potential dangers of this way of thinking. ”Place” has become increasingly important, it is customers driving that. People want to feel part of the local culture, and AirBnB has picked up on that. But the danger of that is that hotels become a “description” of a place. What does ‘place’ mean – it’s incredibly complex. It’s not just using local materials, it isn’t just being sensitive to a place. It might be putting something in that is completely incongruous – but there is a dialogue there.’

grohe RT Hotels 1

grohe RT Hotels 1

James Soane: ‘It’s interesting how nuanced that can be. I think architecture can say one thing and actually do another. A question of a hotel is an intensely cultural one, and actually more to do with the interior than the exterior. We’ve just finished a project in India – a roll-out product – and what we’ve done is create a cultural framework, where there is an ambassador in each city and they do the final sourcing of things. So we create a matrix - I’m just about to use the word ‘curated’ – but it gets ‘inhabited’, let’s say.’

Scott Allen: ’It goes well beyond the architecture itself. People don’t necessarily want to see these global brands, where the experience is exactly the same everywhere regardless of whether you are in Copenhagen, Shanghai, New York. We try and get away from borrowed symbolism in terms of creating new architecture and new ideas. However it is hard from a commercial model – to feel at home anywhere and have a sense of the local.’

Chiu Man Wong: ‘Wherever we work we are fighting against the need for standardization because of control and product roll-out and all those other things. Trip Advisor is the most powerful tool, it makes people sit up and take notice. The feedback from customers is definitely coming – we don’t want the same old, same old.’

grohe RT Hotels 2

grohe RT Hotels 2

Christoph Ingenhoven: ‘The issue with hotels is that there are too many, they’re too big, they’re too international, too professional…’

James Soane: ‘You are talking about market segmentation there. That is the key. As designers we are attracted to a very certain market. But there are huge markets where people wouldn’t agree with anything we are saying. They want a safe, boring hotel that doesn’t challenge. We probably aren’t the people who design those hotels.’

Gökhan Avcıoğlu: ‘In Turkey, tourism is a major industry. Small towns and cities have just started working with architects and designers – it is a new opportunity. Understanding local conditions is increasing; there is a sense that a hotel is not only for relaxing, it is a destination. Visitors can go and understand the place.’

Safety

Ken Shuttleworth: ‘Safety is a big issue too. People talk about where they are going to travel relative to where the trouble spots are. It’s a tribal thing – we go to certain hotels that we want to be seen at. But people are also doing this because they feel more safe. It’s taking people into safer, less exotic areas.’

Sustainability

Stephen Barry: ‘Sustainability is top of the list. And sensorial experience is becoming more important. Rather than just function, there is emotional involvement.’

Christoph Ingenhoven: ‘It is too unhealthy for the planet that people are travelling so much! People are looking for authenticity but they can’t find it at home. So they are travelling. They ruin their own landscape and then they are travelling around the world. It’s a more global problem. Travel isn’t good for the planet.’

Jason Holley: ‘It is a responsibility of all hotels and resorts to have a real dialogue with the culture and be supporting that economy. At the most basic level hotels are providing jobs. But are they nurturing local talent and skills? All around the world there is always amazing food. Why shouldn’t hotels give those people opportunity? Acting as an incubator is a responsibility.’

Gökhan Avcıoğlu: ‘50-60 people is enough in a hotel – in a village maybe 10-30, in a town, 30-60. Anatolia has 12 million tourists every year – it is a huge business but it has ruined the area. There are many ‘fake historical’ buildings. We’re going through all the stages that many other destinations have already gone through. And it’s an ongoing tragedy.

Christoph Ingenhoven: ‘With hotels, you are colonizing the world. You are ruining the places that are left.’

Chiu Man Wong: ‘People don’t understand the impact of how much we damage the environment until it hits home to them.’

James Soane: ‘The big thing is air conditioning. All big tower blocks in Asia are being built with no opening windows. If oil prices go up, these hotels are unviable. You can only live in these spaces if they are plugged in.’

Ken Shuttleworth: ‘Lighting is the worst thing about hotels. It’s gone out of control, nobody is watching it.’

grohe RT Hotels 4

grohe RT Hotels 4

James Soane: ‘In-built obsolescence is an issue. The best initiative I have seen is a ‘credit point’ – if you do all the right things, such as leaving your air conditioning off, you get positive points, e.g. a free drink.’

Scott Allen: ‘AirBnB is a hotel brand. Hotels are traditionally one-way. AirBnB is two-way. You can stay but you can also rent out your apartment. If you’re talking about treading lightly – you’re not building hotels anymore.’

Christoph Ingenhoven: ‘AirBnB is making better use of a resource. In terms of sustainability, it is wonderful.’

The disrupters

Scott Allen: ‘Air BnB’s biggest draw is an experiential one. I’ve hosted and stayed at AirBnB. I completely understand the draw of it. You get to step into someone else’s life and understand local context. It’s a learning and experiential thing that I find so amazing.’

James Soane: ‘The starting point is where hospitality began – ‘I take you into my house’ – which I think is why AirBnB works so well. There is an intimacy to it, and a personality. There is a sense of being hosted. With many hotels there is so much paperwork. There is all this talk about how you are welcome. You are just a number in a machine. The real thing is about service; that is what activates a hotel.’

Jason Holley: ‘There should be personality in a hotel.’

James Soane: ‘There is an independence with AirBnB. In a hotel you are giving yourself to the chain brand. And it’s not always to do with scale. One of the tests is: do they remember you?’

Scale

Scott Allen: ‘Design can solve perceptual issues. You can break down perception of scale with walkability. The goal is trying to find fertile overlap between ‘bigness’ and the perception of space.’

Chiu Man Wong: ‘What about morality and architecture. In Asia business is ever growing and the architect is far along in the chain. By the time the programme comes to you things are locked in stone, by the financiers, by the hoteliers, by the developers and you’re just another tool. How can we move further up the value chain and help decision-making earlier on to influence the product?’

Christoph Ingenhoven: ’Just say no!’

grohe RT Hotels 5

grohe RT Hotels 5

The room

Chiu Man Wong: ‘There are internal legal issues. For example in China, you often build a hotel for legal issues. The operators tell people what they need, not what the business demands from a sensible perspective. Maybe a small room is enough – maybe a ‘safe’ room rather than a ‘lavish’ room. Architects have input here – into what is sustainable, what is responsible.’

Jason Holley: ‘There is a particular typology that you only see in hotels.’

James Soane: ‘There is a responsibility to design carefully. A “design hotel” is often a series of gimmicks. Objects have an alleged value.’

Jason Holley: ‘There is an oversaturation of gimmicks…’

James Soane: ‘There are playful things you can do – if you can make 16 sq ft work there’s something there. Scale and smallness is something that is coming in. There is a price point. The size of room goes down to lower the price. That’s how it starts. Then it becomes successful and the price goes up and that becomes the new normal.’

Jason Holley: ‘Hotel rooms are invariable inflexible.’

grohe RT Hotels 6

grohe RT Hotels 6

Opportunities

Jason Holley: ‘One thing that hotels can offer that AirBnB can’t offer is that desire to be with other people, the social aspect. Being part of a tribe. That social connection is something many hotels really misunderstand.’

Christine Murray: ‘They sit you alone for breakfast! Is there another model here? A sense of common spaces, more space.’

Stephen Barry: ‘It’s about economics though. The price point.’

Scott Allen: ‘What can hotel chains do to address AirBnB? Why don’t they just evolve? Why don’t they partner with AirBnB, e.g. hotel chain could service the AirBnB apartment. So service levels are the same. Granted this is an eco-system problem – it deals with laws and regulations. But as an evolution model, why not partner? And what about NeueHouse? It’s a collaborative work space, for start-ups. The point is you are in a larger framework of office space. They are rolling this out as apartments. Places where people can stay and do the same thing. It is basically a hostel, rebranded.’

Christoph Ingenoven: ‘Micro-apartments are very interesting…’

Gökhan Avcıoğlu: ‘Student housing, and the micro-room are on the rise – they are flexible, with good design. Education is the new business – but it is related to the hospitality business. I remember 25 years ago hotel chains talking about small rooms to get people to the bar. Now there are two ways of going: the luxury rooms, and the micro-room – low cost, sharing maintenance etc.’

James Soane: ‘The best hotels participate in bigger, shared spaces. My experience in Asia is that the hotel can be more than a hotel. It is a destination for locals as well as visitors. It has a bigger responsibility.’

Chiu Man Wong: ‘The best hotels are built for the right reasons. It is a staging point for entry into the city. What’s needed is reform of the hospitality business. Away from the business and towards the hospitality. We should partner more with the operators. Otherwise we are just victims that execute someone else’s plan.’

grohe2

grohe2

This roundtable was held in association with Grohe. Visit www.grohe.com for more information.