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Architecture gets smart: Evolution of hotel design, keeping pandemic norms in mind

Mobile guest rooms, enhanced contactless room controls, robotic servers and pop-up dining areas are just a few of the ideas hotel designers are considering for the post-COVID travel world. Hotel occupancy is down 50 pc nationally in the pandemic-stifled world of travel.

Architecture gets smart: Evolution of hotel design, keeping pandemic norms in mind
Hotel design


While hundreds of hotels remain closed because of the crisis, new hotels — from the sleek high-rise Joseph Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., to the Kimpton Armory Hotel in a 1941 Art Deco landmark in Bozeman, Mont. — continue to open.

Whether they are banking on the swell of tourism that many predict will follow the introduction of a vaccine, or bound financially to open, hoteliers are making plans for a future that now must consider new outbreaks and pandemics in the same way that public buildings permanently changed their security measures in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Boutique hotels that once acted as cultural commons with art exhibitions and buzzy public spaces will be toned down and disperse guests rather that draw them together, at least until the health crisis is over.

“The biggest thing right now is this focus on health and wellness and making sure people feel safe and confident going back into hotels,” said Tom Ito, the hospitality leader and a principal at Gensler, a global architecture firm. “Anything that assures that now and in the long term is here to stay.” We asked hotel executives, designers and suppliers to imagine how the hotel experience might change in the post-COVID world beyond the now very evident enhanced housekeeping. The following predictions span present practices and speculative solutions.

Contactless, touchless room controls

Hotels have long been moving toward automation with self-check-out and keyless guest-room entry via cellphone, especially at budget and mid-scale hotels. The pandemic has only heightened the importance of these features, which align with increased needs for social distancing and avoiding strangers. Now, travellers can expect more automation. Google Assistant has created a hospitality application for its virtual assistant Google Nest Hub, rolled out this summer in a handful of hotels nationally. A combination of a speaker and a tablet-size screen, Nest Hub allows guests to ask questions about things like pool hours, set an alarm and make requests for extra towels or room service without picking up a phone.

Pop-up dining and robotic servers

Not every hotel can offer outdoor dining year-round. Neither can their restaurants thrive with the capacity restrictions forced by social distancing requirements. The solution: Make the entire hotel a dining area. And throw in robotic servers.

“This is meant to be an answer to how do you deconstruct the restaurant experience so you don’t have to eat in one small place,” said Ron Swidler, the chief innovation officer at The Gettys Group, a Chicago-based hotel design, development and consulting firm. Even without robot partygoers, existing hotels have a great incentive to re-purpose their now underutilised meeting rooms, ballrooms and even event lawns. Most hotels are already maximising the use of their outdoor spaces, where guests may feel safer from virus transmission, by moving dining tables and fitness activities outdoors. Ahead, designers predict, travellers may see more greenery coming inside as hotels seek to capture the calming effects of nature.

Elaine Glusac is a reporter with NYT©2020

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