Challenges of Contemporary Design Historic Buildings

By Gary Meadows President, HCI Architecture, Inc. | June 02, 2013

Any contemporary hotel design project comes with its own set of unique challenges, as the architect must aim to please not only the hotel owner but also the investor, hotel operator, guests and most often brand standards or guidelines.

Those challenges become even greater when trying to incorporate contemporary design elements into a historic building.

At HCI Architecture, Inc., a division of HRI Properties and a sister company to HRI Lodging, it's our job to embrace those challenges. As a full-service real estate development company and a national leader in the restoration and adaptive reuse of historic structures, we have converted a number of historic buildings into hotels, including two former department stores, one original hotel that stood vacant for more than 40 years and several historic buildings built for other purposes.

Contemporary hotel design standards differ significantly from those of the past, so each project introduces its own challenges to our architects as they try to introduce a modern hotel with contemporary lobbies and guest spaces within a historic building in an urban area. The challenges also vary greatly depending on the hotel flag because each brand is different.

These days, lobbies are as important as ever for visual impact because they are the first space guests see when they arrive at the hotel. In the past, hotels used materials such as wood and marble in their lobbies to convey a message of grandeur and richness. Today, the finishes cover a wider palette, including wood, metal, granite, ceramic tile, carpet, glass and many others, to create an atmosphere of quiet elegance and serenity from the boisterous urban landscape on the outside. Grand chandeliers have been replaced by contemporary lighting fixtures with electronic controls that change during different times of the day to set an atmospheric mood.

The design challenges in a historic building are made easier if the building was once a hotel because the original design often already showcases impressive visual features, such as a grand staircase or an atrium with overlooking balconies. At the Hilton Garden Inn Jackson Downtown, formerly the King Edward Hotel, our team was able to restore all of the grand, historic spaces of the hotel back to their original splendor, including the magnificent marble staircase in the lobby and the large circular floor opening up to the meeting space above.

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