A journey through space: What do we demand from hotel design?

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The evolution of a ‘place to stay’ is closely related to the development of transportation systems, communication channels and other political developments. Not to dwell on these factors, I would like to look at how today’s hotels have developed and what they mean to us and what we demand of them.

There are different journeys people make, from business to diplomatic and vocational. Some of them being destination journeys, some of them transitory but all of our journeys leave lasting impressions on our minds. So, the guests that visit a hotel come with different mindsets, hence as a designer we need to wonder: Do they expect different experiences and are they looking at different elements? The answer is yes and no.

The journey to a place begins from the point the bags are packed and continues until they are unpacked at the same point. During this journey designers can control some aspects while others we cannot. For example, we cannot construe the traveler’s voyage to the airport (either by train or any other transport), i.e. the means of transport itself are beyond our control, but we can create the ‘experience’ of the destination hotel.

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When we arrive at a location, we start absorbing the sounds, smells, and the general feel which defines and differentiates the place. This state of mind is continued when we enter the hotel, we expect to engage with the place through elements like the culture and the visual textures.

As designers, from architects to interiors, we work in a series of parametres which are defined by safety standards, ergonometric requirements, facility management, so on and so forth. The list is endless and we do a good job even when we feel tied up.

How does the experience then translate into memories which are cherished, remembered and recalled as stories? Does a traveling visitor recognise when his or her hotels from one operator look the same, do they remember the bed they slept in, do they remember the toilet, do they remember how many square feet the room was or do they remember something else?

Yes, it is the differentiating aspect of each space that we remember; it is the continuation of the context in which specific journeys are interesting. The guide to the history, culture and ethos of the location which began when we landed at the place needs to be incorporated into the space we have designed. The scale, interpretation and design are the thought process.

It has to be integrated into the design as an experience. Hotel operators can have design parametres for operations but need to understand the context-specific design that creates the experience which is valued, cherished and recalled by travelers.

I was once asked to create a ‘Parisian’ culture in Chennai, India. This request did not make any sense to me, because someone who could afford to stay in this 5-star hotel could definitely afford to go Paris, so why would he want to see Paris in India? What should have been asked for was an experience that was specific to Chennai, and that incorporated the surrounding environment into the hotel’s interior design.

As designers, it is our responsibility to create spaces where each of the hotels, whatever the scale or type, generate a context specific interpretation. Each place has a proud ethos and to present this to the guest should be a matter of pride.

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