The Value of Retaining Historical Character in Hotel Design
By Scott Lee President & Principal, SB Architects | March 15, 2020
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor said, "If you have an awareness of history, it comes to be part of the now," a sentiment that hints at a gentle rather than heavy-handed approach in retaining historical character in design. Vestiges of the past have a way of emerging through the emotional terrain of a site, city or surrounding landscape. It's our job to dispel the ego and discover, through studying the history, culture and community and surroundings of a locale, an authentic sense of place, and to stay honest to this sensibility throughout the design process.
Hotel design that captures the beneath-the-surface story and spirit of a place can both inspire an awareness of history and elicit emotionally resonant experiences for guests, placing them in the present and connecting them to the resilience of a site and its inimitable character.
Why is this important? Discerning travelers seek inspiration beyond overtly themed hotel experiences and can quickly sense misguided efforts to replicate a historic style or mimic the past; instead, they desire engagement in spaces shaped by a site's nuanced qualities and designed in harmony with its surroundings.
Over the last 20 years, hyper-localized design has become our sweet spot; we design new builds, as well as renovate and refresh existing hotels, without disrupting the local fabric of a community and the historical legacy of the place. An authentic connection to the locale instills a deeper appreciation and sense of curiosity in hotel guests, creates a long-lasting impression and contributes a sense of timelessness to the property.
Setting Sets the Tone
Tucked into the private canyon on a 157-acre site marked by ancient oaks, majestic hills, a rock-hewn stream, and private lake, the Upper Napa Valley site of one of our seminal projects was the source of great historical character and a draw for visitors seeking respite in pristine natural surroundings. It both beckoned and challenged us to design a resort that treads lightly on the land. A challenging project for the entitlement process and existing zoning constraints, Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort, trained us to allow the site itself to be the resort's most important amenity, a valuable lesson we've since applied in preserving the character of a place and integrating the surrounding landscape into the guest experience.