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The Future of Retail and Hospitality

InspireDesign reached out to Kevin Newman, CEO of architecture and design firm NG+P, for his take on how COVID-19 will affect retail and hospitality design.

Your firm recently expanded into hospitality and retail markets after focusing primarily on multifamily and mixed use. What have you found to be the similarities and differences between those areas? We have spent the past 10 years expanding our multifamily expertise into a plethora of lifestyle design and mixed-use experiences. During this time, we’ve come to realize that our lifestyle-minded approach to designing public, mixed-use spaces is synergistic and advantageous to the hospitality and retail markets, making our transition into those markets very natural and seamless.

While we grasp the difficulties and opportunities facing the hospitality and retail segments at this time, a transformation is occurring. We are furthering our understanding of how and why society interacts in an evolving digital, physical and communal world. The new normal is being realized and we want to utilize our design creativity and innovation to help in every way.

How has COVID-19 affected the design of projects you are currently working on? COVID-19 has driven home the importance of collaboration in regards to the design process, which is something NG+P has prioritized for a long time. Space planning, material selections and functional adjustments are only a portion of the task at hand and require further partnership with operational teams and technological innovation to reliably improve safety, while maintaining social dynamics that meet customer expectations.

In designing public spaces, we will further dissect the best solutions to allow for social distancing, without taking away the customer experience. While certain brands have worked hard to successfully meet new safety guidelines, it’s just as valuable to create designs that maintain an emotional connection with the clientele.

How have you been able to balance social distancing without taking away guest experience and the emotional connection? Achieving this balance comes with its challenges, but this is an area of design that is still fresh, evolving and has a lot of potential. To date, we are in the early stages of design on several hospitality and mixed-use projects and the awareness of COVID-19 has had a major influence in our programming.

That being said, I think we need to be careful not to overreact as to negatively impact experiences in a post-COVID world, yet be mindful of how to implement distancing and safety measures without taking the experience away from the guests.

It’s important to understand that we will, one day, live a more “normal” lifestyle again, so altering designs so much so that we’re unable to create meaningful experiences when that day comes will call for more updates and changes in the (relatively near) future.

How receptive are your clients to addressing the new design changes given the COVID-19 environment? Developers are approaching projects in a variety of ways at this time, but the status of the projects is a big driving factor in many decisions. Developers with projects under construction are eager to stick to the schedule and keep the funding flowing, while those still in the design phase have taken this time to reexamine the impacts of their designs and the opportunities to move in new directions.

The clients we are currently working with on retail and hospitality-centric deals are fortunately very receptive to us addressing the many spatial and programmatic certainties in conjunction with operational and technological awareness. Our clients understand the importance of making these changes, not only as it relates to the health and comfort of the public, but also in terms of the future success of their brands.

Long term, what do you think that hotel and retail properties will look like after a public health crisis like this? It may take years for some brands and properties, and only months for the agile or massive chains, to respond in ways that both make consumers “feel” safer and just as importantly, “in fact” be safer. We are now aware and prepared to design for an uncertain future with spaces that achieve a way to be alone together, allow robust virtual participation and create dynamic environments and experiences that offer clientele the ability to choose their own adventures.