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Hotel design: a French affair?
By Stefan Fraenkel
Tuesday, 13th June 2006
 
Is design becoming the private turf of French designers?

In the early 80's, Andree Putman, designed Morgan's Hotel in New York, soon followed by a succession of small hotels by Philippe Starck, both being French designers. A completely new standard in hotel design was then established. The hotel environment would no longer be judged by its quantities of velvet and gilt, but also by its quotients of adventure and imagination.

Even in the most liberated examples, however, both public and back-of-the-house facilities are still subject to a complex array of guidelines, code requirements, checklists, and principles of function and economics.

Hip Hotels are considerably less serious on the one hand, but considerably more attractive on the other. "Hip," as used here, is an acronym for "highly individualized properties," and so they are, all in the "post-Putman spirit".

While hotel companies try to think more like independent concept-makers, Yasmine Mamoudieh - a renowned designer who studied architecture and art history in Geneva (Switzerland) and an invited lecturer at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne - tried to put herself in the client perspective. Yasmine's work won several awards for projects such as the Coconut Grove Plaza in Miami or the Wyndham hotel chain.

Trendsetting hotel design is more than theatre; it is a sales and marketing tool. When looking at design hotels - such as the newly renovated Grand Hotel Bellevue in Gstaad or the Hotel Palafitte in Neuchâtel (Switzerland) - you get a clear understanding of what I mean.

By combining various styles, the designers and architects have created a one-of-a-kind look that invites guests to experience and explore. Rooms do not all look alike, so that guests may return repeatedly and still discover something new, which is exactly the point. Without pulling back from the aesthetic edge, these two different, daring hotels reflect a purposeful flight to quality that is shaping up as the design directive for 2003.

Design expectations are challenged and redefined. This is due to sophisticated and high-end travellers that demand authentic, unique entertainment and lodging experiences. These two hotels embody some of the best work. According to Yasmine Mamoudieh, "one of the main design trends focuses on mixing and matching styles to achieve the residential look that makes hotels look/feel inviting to modern, upscale travellers. Hotel lobbies and interiors look as if they were collected over a lifetime, even if they are selected from some exclusive manufacturer's catalog with a French flavour!

Hotel design: A security affair?

The results of a new online survey, conducted by the Atlanta-based architectural firm of John Portman & Associates, shows that while the majority of business travellers are concerned about airline safety and theft, they feel that hotel design can improve their security while staying in hotels.

The survey assessed the opinions of business travellers on how design affects their feelings about hotel security. The survey was a follow-up to the firm's 2001 survey conducted for women business travellers, which found that security was a high priority for women in selecting a hotel.

"From this new survey we learned that architects can use design to help travellers feel even safer," said Ellis Katz, Vice-President and Director of the Hospitality Studio at John Portman & Associates. Some examples noted in the survey include:

  • Designing hotels with well-lit and open public spaces.
  • Improving security for hotel mechanical systems such as electrical and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems.
  • Designing rooms equipped with panic buttons to alert the front desk in case any problem occurs, and rooms that automatically light up when entered.
  • Designing hallways that can be clearly seen from one end to the other.
The survey also revealed strong security design preferences among business travellers. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents prefer a hotel to be visible and accessible from the street. Two thirds of respondents felt safer with parking facilities located adjacent to a hotel rather than beneath it. 50 percent said that the height of the hotel did not affect their decision to stay in that building.

"Security-conscious travellers are willing to pay for added security features," said Katz. 42 percent of the respondents would be willing to pay five percent more for a hotel room that included new safety features; 38 percent of the respondents would be willing to see the room rate increase by 10 percent for these safety features.

Hotel design: A question of compromise?

The challenge for interior designer is sometimes to bring back the edge of past architect style, modernize it and marry functionality with better space utilization to create a hotel that could take on a growing inventory of competitors.

With the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, one of Mamoudieh's first priorities was to create a sense of space in the 20 square meters standard guestrooms. Yasmine suspended integral elements such as the writing desk, night stands and minibar /television unit from the wall. "We made the most of space that otherwise would have been a passageway by creating a wardrobe with a coloured glass door", Yasmine said. According to her, "functionality serves comfort; hotels are designed so that people feel comfortable, and even happy to be working and staying there. Good design is clever design that serves people rather forcing it upon them.

There is no compromise between function and aesthetic." Finally creating a space that integrates key services such as meeting spaces, restaurants or lounges may bring the most important revenue generator into visible and easily accessible positions.


Stefan FRAENKEL ~ Professor EHL
Stefan Fraenkel is a Professor of Hospitality Management at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. Stefan has gained an extensive hospitality experience in general management positions
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