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Architecture and Design Post-Pandemic

InspireDesign caught up with Patrick Winters, president of Nadel Architecture + Planning, to get his take on how hospitality design and architecture will change in a post-pandemic world.

How will the pandemic affect hotel design? How will owners and stakeholders ensure that guests feel safe without taking away from the guest experience?

There is certainly a shift underway in the hospitality industry, and almost every industry across the globe, towards an increased focus on guest or consumer health. How can hotelier’s deliver that same level of guest experience received prior to the pandemic in the current environment?

There are many factors that go into this: one is the clear increased sanitation, disinfecting and cleaning that go into maintaining clean and safe places and the other goes a bit deeper into the psyche of guests.

While it is difficult to pinpoint what specifically will be shorter term changes and what will remain long-term, hotels are integrating design changes to ensure guests feel welcome and safe.

One of the recent changes has been the check-in experience. Many hotels have shifted towards contactless check-in and we believe we will continue to see this evolve. We may see options in the future where there is the ability to self-check-in or to check-in at the front desk, depending on guest comfort. Hotels owners may also begin to implement the use of body scanners, temperature checks and sterilization stations throughout a hotel.

From a design standpoint, we will begin to see an evolution in lobby design so that guests feel comfortable from the moment they enter a hotel. One way that hotels are doing this is through the reconfiguration of furniture. We may see deeper design changes in the future that will aid in ensuring guests feel a sense of comfortability and security gathering in these spaces.

Another design change—that will likely depend on the climate and geography of a hotel—is that more amenities will move outdoors. We started to see this a bit already with restaurants. Many hotel restaurants that have traditionally been indoors will incorporate more open kitchen concepts and outdoor wait stations. For those located in colder climates, hotel restaurants will incorporate larger spacing between tables, individual serving plates versus buffet-style operations, and lighter linens, which provide a cleaner look and feel to guests. We will also see a shift away from traditional menus to touchless virtual menus.

What changes in design and architecture can we expect to see in a post-COVID environment?

In times of crisis, it often sparks innovation. We are confident that the current environment will force industries to find new ways of doing things that often result in better outcomes for guests and consumers.

In the short term, there will be a continued focus on social distancing and health protocols. That said, over the long-term, we believe that we will see innovative strategies that marry the need for socialization and guest experience with the needs of the new normal.

One thing that has become extremely evident throughout the pandemic is we are programmed to socialize and build connections. This is why community and gathering spaces will still be in demand post-pandemic, they will simply be reimagined.

For example, outdoor gathering spaces will likely be larger in proportion to indoor amenities. There will be a continued shift toward blurring the line between indoor and outdoor, a trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic. These outdoor spaces will be enhanced by adding items such as fire pits, heating towers that encourage fresh air flow, etc.

We will see less clustering in the overall designs and hotels may incorporate some sort of check-in process to manage the number of people at one time, all of which contribute to guests feeling safe and also providing the ability to gather and socialize.

The design and operation of elevators within hotels are also evolving. Rather than encouraging more occupants with multiple stops, elevators will allow guests to input the desired floor first where the elevator will come to the guest and take them directly to the requested floor.

What specific design changes are being requested from property owners and developers as a result of the pandemic? Have you had to shift strategy in any of your current or upcoming projects?

We are in a unique environment where hotel owners are making small modifications to operate in the current environment, however, it is yet to be determined what will remain for the long term.

Because of this, many of our hospitality clients are actively watching where changes may happen and what we can/should expect for the future. That said, many are holding off on making drastic changes in the current environment until we have a better idea of the long-term effects.

For example, we are working on a hotel design for the iconic Breakers Hotel in Long Beach, CA, (pictured above) which was under design prior to the pandemic and scheduled to open in 2021. The owner has not requested any major changes to the overall design of the hotel as a result of COVID-19. This is because most owners are looking beyond a two-year horizon. There will clearly be design changes in the short term and perhaps some longer-term trends will eventually emerge, however, most of the trends resulting from the coronavirus were already here before and are simply being accelerated. Because of this, we had already incorporated several design elements that are increasing in demand today.

In fact, the Breakers Hotel design incorporates a rooftop bar, a variety of spaces that blur the indoor/outdoor experience including pool bar, wine bar with patio space and street-level cafes, among others.

As mentioned above, one area where we do expect a significant amount of change is regarding hotel restaurants and how these are designed moving forward. Traditionally, these restaurants do not lead directly to the exterior. We believe we will see design concepts evolve where guests can be served outside with the ability to move seamlessly from the kitchen to the dining area.

In light of keeping people safe and healthy—will the materials used in hotel design change—such as fabrics and finishes?

We will certainly see an evolution in the types of materials used throughout the design process. We will see a shift in focus towards antibacterial materials that reduce the opportunity for the spread of bacteria and illness. The challenge will be to ensure the materials used provide a level of cleanliness without looking like a sterile hospital room.

Hotel owners and operators will likely start with the hotel rooms and expand to other areas throughout the hotel to ensure that guests feel safe upon first arrival all the way up to their room.

In guestrooms, we will likely see surfaces that are larger, smoother and wipeable, allowing for thorough cleaning. Many materials including stone, marble and granite are very cleanable and have a craft quality if executed properly.

We may also see the use of carpet be eliminated. This will likely be replaced with laminate flooring or other types of hard flooring that can be more easily disinfected and provide a better aesthetic appeal to guests.

Overall, we will begin to see architects, designers and hotel owners push the envelope in incorporating more materials that are aligned with health and wellness and that still deliver a warm, welcoming, and inviting environment to guests.