Hotel Design: Can it still capture the essence of a place?
By Pope Bullock Principal, Cooper Carry | June 23, 2013
Today's hotel customer has more brand choices than Crest has in toothpaste options. The U.S. hospitality marketplace, in terms of branded market segmentation, is nearly fully developed. From luxury to select service and long-term stay, industry leaders have covered the spectrum with brand and sub-brand alternatives.
One thing that each brand has in common is that every different kind of hotel product is defined by brand standards, which are used by all the major hotel companies to ensure a standard experience. The details, which define a hotel company's particular product, have become specific criteria describing in detail the requirements for the design of the brand. Brand standards often include exterior color pallets and almost always control the size, shape and location of graphics. They will include details for the design of the lobby including the front desk. Hoteliers employ design directors who routinely rethink, reinvent and redesign their brand standards. Owners, developers and design professionals are then required to work with these standards.
The intention of all these efforts is to differentiate the design of one brand from another; however, the brand standards are all derived from the same process. All the efforts to define a brand by design standards can result in commercial hotel environments without true distinction. How can the hospitality industry use design to create more distinctive properties that are truly differentiated in their markets?
Before the 1950s, post-war American architecture bore a relationship to place. A postcard of a grand hotel in South Florida, say the Breakers, could be easily distinguished from a postcard of The Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue in New York City. The Biltmore in Phoenix could only be found in Phoenix. During that era, hotel design captured the spirit of a place.
Today's industry-wide insistence on brand standards and brand consistency is antithetical to what evolved naturally for centuries before. Disney World and Las Vegas gave us permission for design to be transportable and to have no relation to a place. The development of hotel brand standards that control design options can make it more difficult to design hotels that seem to fit and connect to a city or region. Hotel Brand A's design is the same in Pittsburg as in New Orleans. And yet, those cities have remarkable different characteristics and qualities. Can we create brand distinction by designing buildings that respond to the environments and the social context in which we build them?
Historically the term "genius loci" meant the spirit of a place. Today the term refers to a location's distinctive qualities. Those qualities include: the physical context and the social and historical context that contribute to an overall spirit of a place.
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