What’s driving more experiential, sustainable design
What’s driving more experiential, sustainable design
15 MARCH 2018 9:02 AM

Hotel designers at the Mexico Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference talked about what they see as trends in the industry and what they hope to see happen in hotel design.

MEXICO CITY—Design has never mattered more for hotels, said a panel of experts who shared their insights at HVS’ Mexico Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference.

There are many things owners, developers and hoteliers must be mindful of, said speakers on the “Innovation in design, mixed-use and master-planned projects” panel.

Nunzio DeSantis, senior partner with Nunzio Marc DeSantis Architects, said the competitive landscape in the larger accommodations space is forcing the hotel industry to be more creative and experiential.

“When I think about what is really influencing our world, it’s disruptors,” he said. “They’re huge in what’s going on. Airbnb is making us think differently, and restaurants are changing hotels every minute. If you’re not paying attention to that, you’re missing out. Both young people and older people are changing how we use space.”

Sustainability is key
One of the most recurring topics for the panelists was the importance of sustainability in design and construction.

James Freeman, cofounder of FSC Architects, said incorporating sustainability into the design and very fabric of a hotel goes a long way in creating a memorable experience for guests. He said this is especially true of the types of properties seen in a country like Mexico.

“There’s a direct correlation between (what guests find authentic) and the environment, especially in the resort business,” he said.

He noted thinking sustainably can help designers come up with interesting and new ways to incorporate the surrounding environment into hotels that are wholly unique.

“If you listen to the property, it will talk to you,” Freeman said. “You have to think about what the opportunity is (at a property) and if you can capitalize on it as part of the guest experience. That’s often the most memorable (part of their stays). If a hotel is nothing but brick, mortar, stone, glass and steel, there’s nothing particularly special about that.”

DeSantis noted the industry should be compelled to act sustainably for reasons beyond the design benefits.

Developers and architects need to explore “little opportunities to connect guestrooms with the land,” for example, adding “a plunge pool in a way that it’s like magic,” he said.

“We’re architects who live in a world where (sustainable design) shouldn’t be a choice,” he said. “It’s a responsibility that we leave a better planet for our kids.”

Ultimately, those decisions don’t come down to the architects and designers, DeSantis said, but how much and where investors are willing to spend their money.

“We need to all be on the same page about this,” he said. “Usually sustainability comes with a price tag, and I’m the first to say that if we can be as green and sustainable as possible on a project, we will.”

Douglas Smith, president of EDSA, agreed that sustainability is monumentally important, and eventually will grow beyond simply doing no harm.

“We’re working on projects in parts of the world that are more advanced that are actually net positive, meaning they not only don’t harm the environment but are giving back and enhancing it,” he said. “You can give back to the grid or local culture. But I understand you have to walk before you run, and we need to get fully to net zero then get to net positive.”

Opportunities in mixed-use projects
John Newcomb, SVP for Latin America at CallisonRTKL, said his company often works with mixed-use projects in urban centers and has been successful in incorporating touches that are more connected with communities or nature.

“So we’re creating community parks—real parks where you can have trees,” he said.

He noted this approach to design helps bring more people around so that the hotels on campus can serve as “activity centers.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an experience-seeker or a business person, the hotel is becoming a social hub,” Newcomb said. “So can we tie that in with an F&B offering outside the hotel? We’re really now generating a true mixed-use environment, and the hotel has a huge component in that.”

It’s time for radical change
DeSantis said he’d love to see the hotel industry embrace a huge shift in the way design is done. For example, he said, he’d like to work on a project that would use roof space in heavily developed urban spaces for “glamping,” which is luxury (or glamourous) camping.

“Can you imagine New York City on 23 January with snow dropping, sitting next to a gas fire pit in your tent?” he asked. “You’d be enjoying New York like no one has ever experienced it before, and you’d still be able to take the elevator down and go to the Oak Bar at the Plaza.”

DeSantis said he’s sure someone will capitalize on the idea eventually because rooftops represent “extraordinary real estate” that the industry has mostly neglected.

“We need to think about the roof as more than a bar,” he said, noting “our cities are the jungle, too.”

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