Balancing sound, experience key to airport hotels
Balancing sound, experience key to airport hotels
18 JUNE 2018 8:13 AM

Hotels located near airport terminals require more attention to soundproofing techniques, but that shouldn’t take away from the experience.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Soundproofing guestrooms, especially for hotels positioned near airport terminals, can be a challenge when it comes to balancing comfort and experience.

Noise was a major factor for the design of the new TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, expected to open in 2019, said Erik Palmer, managing director of the property for MCR Development.

The guestrooms, which are positioned closest to Terminal 5 and the runway, were constructed in a way to minimize sound as much as possible, he said.

The TWA Flight Center Hotel at JFK Airport in New York City, which is planned to open in 2019, will feature thick floor-to-ceiling-windows in guestrooms. Shown here is a model room. (Photo: David Mitchell)

Thoughtful design, construction
When MCR and Morse Development began restoring the 1962 Eero Saarinen-designed terminal into the 512-room TWA Hotel, it was about designing the right thickness and sized windows, Palmer said.

About 90% of the building’s exterior is covered in glass, and the floor-to-ceiling guestroom windows are four-and-a-half inches thick, made of seven panes and two gas pockets. The new U.S. Embassy in London is currently the only building in the world that has glass thicker than that, he said.

The windows “take up a huge ratio of the room purposely,” Palmer said. “We wanted you to be able to get up and look out the window, with no obstructions.”

Palmer said all of these design and construction elements were taken into consideration when budgeting the TWA project, and the emphasis was on building it the right way without shortcuts.

Eric Nicolas, director of architecture and design for InterContinental Hotels Group, said when constructing airport hotels, it’s important that windows have a high sound transmission class rating.

Techniques such as adding distance between window panes, using laminated glass or a “glass-plastic-glass sandwich” can further help reduce noise transmission, he said.

Palmer said the STC rating for TWA’s guestroom windows is at “50-plus, which is extremely quiet.”

About 160,000 travelers a day go through JFK who have a three-plus hour layover. “There’s a lot of people that might come from the West Coast (who) want to catch a couple hours of sleep,” Palmer said. “We want to be able to create a great sleeping atmosphere for them. That’s why we had to be so cognizant of the thickness of windows.”

Concrete seals and the shape of the building also were designed with sound dampening in mind, he said.

Ben Straus, senior design manager at Marriott International, said the very first thing to consider is the location of the hotel.

“In addition to airport adjacency, we also look at major highways and noisy urban environments,” he said. “As soon as we see location-based noise concerns, we put the owners and designers in touch with an acoustic consultant.”

Straus said Marriott’s Moxy brand, for example, is still fairly new, and sometimes tweaks need to be made as concerns come up.

One of the properties, he said, had urban noise concerns; therefore, windows needed replaced to provide more acoustic separation. Acoustics isn’t just about noise; it can also be about vibrational transference, he added.

“Sometimes there may be a concern that isn’t understood until the hotel construction is complete,” he said. “Knowing that, we try to equip owners with strategies for after opening as well.”

Jonathan Wilson, Hilton’s VP of customer experience, innovation, food and beverage and wellness, said noise level can make or break a hotel experience for guests. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, he said, but his team has explored how new tools, amenities and designs can help.

Last year, the team at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner Innovation Gallery tested rooms with customizable speakers that omit white noise, felt art that absorbs sound and a device that delivers a frequency that masks outside noises based on a guestroom’s acoustics, he said.

All are currently on display as part of the Innovation Gallery’s Product Showcase, and the team is in its next stage of development to “see if and how we may want to implement,” he said.

Wilson said some of the solutions could be cost-effective for owners—for example, the 100%-wool felt art on walls may utilize recycled materials.

Balance sound with experience
Palmer said it’s important that the TWA balances quiet space and allowing guests to experience the excitement of an airport hotel.

The hotel is “not only in the airport, but it has spectacular, amazing views overlooking the runway, which I think stimulates the excitement of the location,” he said. “We put a lot of thought and study behind noise and sound transmission.”

For guests who want to take in the excitement of the runway, the TWA will have a 10,000-square-foot rooftop observation deck with a pool and bar, he added.

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