Multi-Generational Hotel Design
By Andrew Simmons Director of Hospitality Studio, Nadel Architects | May 05, 2019
Hotels, like any other consumer product, can vary drastically from one another, tailored to meet the demands of unique demographics. The hospitality industry has often identified target audiences on the basis of generational background or specific mindsets as a way to build brands. Whether the brand has mass appeal or exists in a more esoteric arena, the root of what attracts a hotel guest of any generation begins with the built environment.
Hospitality spaces can be as creative or as standardized as they wish in their objective to maintain market share among select consumers. Across the spectrum, one truth remains – some elements of hotel design are timeless. Visual appeal and comfort must transcend generational lines and translate to all hotel guests regardless of age and, where applicable, mindset.
The Experiential Craze
An emerging trend lies in the experiential element hotels offer. Hotels are increasingly inserting themselves as a part of the city and as a destination rather than just a place to sleep at night. Where visitors used to focus on brand names, now they are selecting a location based on the attributes of the destination. Multi-generational hotel design envelops a myriad of social and cultural norms, time periods, genres, and subtypes. At first glance, it may seem simple to design for the multi-generational category by adopting a policy of inclusion across all elements. The reality is that prioritizing universally desirable qualities and creating gratifying experiences for all age groups is the key to multi-generational design.
Including a local expressive element in the hotel design such as a micro-brewery or food trucks can be an easy way to integrate the city life or the bring the location's unique experience into the hotel itself. By making the hotel a destination, the hotel can welcome the community as well as its visitors. The trend of offering mixed-use spaces has become essential to new hotel design.
The Ace Hotel, and Tommie Hotels brand are both good examples of the benefits of a hotel truly integrating itself as a part of the city. This can include special events, shows, or different nightly entertainment options, open to all ages. By maintaining flexible spaces within the hotel, they are able to cultivate a home or residential atmosphere. One example of a hotel utilizing these features is the San Leandro Hyatt Hotel. The San Leandro Hyatt Hotel, a dual-branded Hyatt Place and Hyatt House project is a waterfront property, with both mixed-use and family friendly areas. The hotel combines residents and the concept of a waterfront destination into one unique experience. Dual-branded properties are a modern and innovative way to blend both business and the guest experience into "bleisure".
The Cambria Hotel is a new adaptive reuse project located in down town Los Angeles. Adaptive reuse projects give the brand the ability to insert themselves into an already thriving part of the city, and maximize the building's capabilities. Both hotel formats have tapped into the modern, experiential hotel design that is bringing in all generations of travelers.
Among the most adaptable and widely used experiential elements of multi-generational design is the creation of unique photo opportunities. Younger generations, many of whom cannot recall a significant period of time before the internet, refer to these photographable characteristics as "Instagrammable" or "social media worthy." Creating these visually appealing photo opportunities with a "wow" factor is a crucial component in multi-generational design because the act of taking a picture to remember or memorialize an experience is a time-honored tradition. Photos taken by multi-generational travelers are, in many cases, a family. By default, the vacationing family unit is typically multi-generational – increasingly now more so than ever.
The Influence of Immigrants on Multi-Generational Households
Whether the family of multi-generational travelers spans two generations, three generations, or more, the vast majority will take photos to document their vacation. Providing an enticing photo opportunity through multi-generational design often involves creating an area or a structure that is both unique and potentially iconic. This entails developing an exciting, yet approachable moment for travelers of all ages to gather for a photo. These curated photo opportunity spaces must also, to some degree be universally relatable to all age groups.
They can also be emblematic of the hotel brand, or the city, in which they are found. All of these possibilities leave designers with ample room for creativity. However, to stay true to the principles of multi-generational design, this experiential activity must be visually appealing, socially acceptable, and inclusive to all, no matter the age.
One possible reason why leisure travel is becoming more multi-generational could be attributed to the changing dynamic of the "typical" American household. In a survey by National Realtor's Association (NAR), households headed by younger baby boomers have increased the incidence of multi-generational cohabitation by 20%. This is a result of adult children returning home and other relatives, particularly elderly, living under one roof to facilitate care and convenience. While correlation is not causation, the influx of multi-generational travelers might be attributed to this increase in multi-generational households.
Additionally, Pew Research Center reports that growing immigration and the diversity of ethnicities in the United States may also be driving the multi-generational trend. It is reported that approximately 28% of Asian households and 25% of Hispanic households are multi-generational. Both of these figures are reflective of cultural norms and are higher than the rate of Caucasian multi-generational households, which stands at 15%. Immigration statistics matter to multi-generational hotel design because, in theory, the buying power of an immigrant group becomes greater as the subsequent generations are born, raised, and educated in their new nation.
Hotels, a leisure expense, will most likely be frequented by those with disposable income. As immigrants continue to advance their buying power, the face of the American hotel customer will become increasingly diverse and multi-generational.
Sense of Place – a Timeless Design Feature
Another key component of multi-generational hotel design is the ability to create a sense of place and belonging in an environment that is most likely unknown to guests. For many travelers, this may be the first and only time they will visit a particular city or hotel. Designers are tasked with finding solutions to enable guests to relate and interact with a space, both positively and, hopefully, emotionally. For instance, a historical hotel furnished and outfitted in a specific time period may present a chance for young and old to explore topics that are period-specific.
However, this same hotel may not contain the most accessible points of entry and walkways. This could prove cumbersome for elderly guests in wheelchairs or a young couple conveying babies in a dual-seated stroller. Designers can achieve a sense of place through present day innovations that still allow an immersion in the hotel's overall experience, while not overshadowing the thematic elements of a hotel property.
Alternatively, a hotel with an overtly modern aesthetic may not connect with certain age groups or individuals of a specific mindset. Though purely a matter of taste, some find minimalistic designs to be drab, cold, and unwelcoming. Modern-style furniture might be awkward or uncomfortable for both the elderly and young children. Additionally, many families may not feel a strong sense of belonging in a space that seems more appropriate for shooting a music video. It is also important to note that modern designs may feel completely out of place in an older neighborhood where the architecture is reminiscent of centuries past.
A hotelier with a strong desire to incorporate a modern aesthetic, but still win favor with multi-generational travelers will need to collaborate with designers to find unique solutions that are both visually appealing and welcoming to guests and transcend all boundaries.
Creative and inviting solutions can be engineered for an ultra-chic, modern hotel intended to target all ages of traveler, just as a rustic-themed hotel can be updated for comfort and ease of access. One common theme across the many possible ideas to develop a sense of place in a hotel is balance, which relies heavily on the interior design choices. A strong sense of place is instrumental to create a memorable hotel stay for each individual, so the place-defining elements should be applied consistently throughout the structure's entirety.
Designers who expand their efforts to establish a sense of place by focusing on a holistic experience, from check-in to check-out, rather than just one aspect of the hotel, like the lobby or guest rooms, will find greater success with a design that resonates with all ages. Balancing design elements throughout the entire space is key to establish a sense of place. From the interior design to the structural layouts, all segments must work cohesively to resonate with hotel guests, regardless of their generational background.
Creating Balance and Connections
Creating a balance is paramount and can also be arduous, as there are countless combinations of colors, fabrics, textures, lighting, and more. Finding a balance within a specific design concept creates an aesthetic and a sense of place that overall is visually appealing and welcoming to everyone. Connection is also a high priority for every age group of travelers, so designers should consider ways the hotel space can facilitate connections and make them stand out while still feeling authentic. Giving guests the experience to take a unique family photo and establishing a sense of place are important yet simple ways to achieve a unique, experiential hotel stay; however, many other considerations must be taken when connecting all the facets involved with designing for intergenerational traveling groups.
Visual appeal and comfort are regarded as being of the utmost importance, but the steps taken to achieve these characteristics are what really matter. Regarding comfort, multi-generational design can be addressed by the lighting controls available for guest rooms. These provide a certain degree of customization to guests with different sleeping preferences. A family traveling with young children who have a strict bedtime, even on vacation, could benefit from keeping one end of the guestroom dark for sleep while the other end is still on but dimmed for reading or watching television. Allowing guests to have a degree of control over their immediate environment can reduce tension and stress during a time intended for cherished travel with loved ones.
Creating a gathering place inclusive to all is another staple of multi-generational hotel design, especially since this traveling subset intends to maximize their time with one another. The overall look and feel of this gathering place should be welcoming and indiscriminate. Locally-sourced, durable materials, free of sharp edges or corners are the preferred choices for furnishings as these will withstand wear-and-tear of younger children while avoiding injury.
Locally-sourced materials also perpetuate a strong sense of place and employ site integration tactics by using the surrounding natural environment. Other popular multi-generational design features are neutral color palettes and the use of outdoor fabrics for indoor spaces. This is especially true of vinyl or other rubber-based materials, which can mimic the premium look of leather while being more resilient, easier to clean, and more cost-effective.
Lastly, the exterior of the hotel needs to complement the surrounding structures while reinforcing the hotel's brand. As previously noted, a contemporary or modern design will seem anachronistic in a neighborhood of brownstone rowhouses with cobblestone streets. By prioritizing visual appeal and comfort for guests while simultaneously being a good neighbor to pre-existing structures, a hotel can establish a sense of place through branding and respect for the surrounding neighborhood that every traveler will appreciate.
When designers pay close and creative, yet specific, attention to the needs of the intergenerational audience of travelers, they can rest assured that they will successfully connect with this demographic.
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