Future of Hotel Designing Post-Covid

At the concluding session of the 5th edition of BW HOTELIER Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit, renowned architects and interior designers came together to discuss the future of hotel designing, budgets, owner and designer relationships, and much more.

Vandana Dhawan Saxena, Principal, Studio IV Design, moderated the final session “Hotel Design: The Designer Owner Partnership”, of BWH IHA 2020. Joining the panel were some of the most celebrated and renowned names from the architecture and interior design world. The panel included Bobby Mukherji, Chairman, Bobby Mukherji & Associates; Ritu Bhatia Kler, Managing Director, Total Integrated Design India; Abhishek Mathur, Director, Studio HBA; Peter Joehnk, Partner and Founder, JOI Design; Jeremy Hayes, Senior Vice President, Wimberly Allison Tong Goo (UK) (WATG); and Marko Dobrota, Principal, Smallwood. 

Moderator Saxena in the opening address said: “The impact of buildings has increased in the time of the pandemic as we spend a lot more time indoors. And design involves questions like aesthetics, construction methodology, layout structure, choice of material. As designers work closely with the owners, it's almost like a partnership as owners have a vision of what they want and of course they are not building a monument, they need a return on their investment.” 

On the question of designing a hotel project, Hayes of Wimberly Allison Tong Goo said, “Our approach can be referred to as design narratives that tell a story from a cultural and aesthetic point of view we collect from and collaborate with the stakeholders involved”. 

Elaborating further, he listed out a six-point agenda with regards to designing. He said, “The first one is the land in terms of understanding the marketplace and also in terms of exploiting the highest potential of that site. The second one is more lyrical as it's about scripting the journey and we being able to emotionally connect with the guest through the site. The third point is about making the place that is to say us creating. It's about the physicality of the buildings. The fourth point would be about the integrated design. Next would be about collaboration with world class professionals in all the design disciplines with a common vision. And lastly, it's about creating and leaving a place better than we originally found it to be”. 

To the question of enjoying designing more, a mid-scale hotel or an obscure hotel project, Abhishek Mathur of Studio HBA remarked, “ I have certainly enjoyed designing both but it's actually about the process and how one caters to those parameters and I think those are the scalable qualities in design. The design landscape of today determines not only problem solving but also imparting a personality to the design. If you press me down on this question, certainly some sites are more evocative than the others in that sense”. 

Responding to the moderator’s question on owners involving the designers in the context of interior design, Rita Bhatia Kler of Total Integrated Design India noted, “It’s a relevant question in the sense that a client and designers relationship is long especially in case of hotels. I would say the interior designer must be brought in the day they have a vision and putting a team together with the architect. All the stakeholders must be involved in brainstorming the vision of the project. From layout to concept to detailing and material sourcing, the designers must be with the client throughout. So I believe that the interior designers are brought early into the process of execution as they are actually the solution providers”. 

Agreeing with Bhatia, Mukherji of Bobby Mukherji & Associates said, “Yes interior designers must be brought into the project early on otherwise, it creates disastrous projects, which involves large amounts of surgery resulting in huge expenses and that is completely unnecessary.” 

Highlighting the need for increased collaborations and teamwork among the various stakeholders involved, Mathur said, “The difference between what’s actually built and the initial vision is the lack of engagement between the various consultants. We need to establish the communication and relationship channels to share the vision from different angles. In doing so we will have one better product at the end”.

Responding to the question of changing dialogue between the hotel owners and designers in times of Covid, Marko said, “We will appreciate the owner’s trust and work to the best to execute his vision with full confidence as a team. 

Responding to the same query, Mathur noted, “We are all going through an unprecedented time right now, which nobody really has any control over. We can all try to make the best of hospitality.” 

Highlighting the importance of local observation in designing, Mathur also said one must observe the local culture and take back a memory which he thinks is imperative to designers as they do engage with local communities and try to reflect in their creations. He said, “One must soak about the local culture to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the local market. For India, the strength lies in the local craftsmanship, not that one is unaware of the lack of regulation but one must be aware enough to make the best use of that”. 

Sharing the experience of working in India, Joehnk of JOI Design said, “India is such a diverse country with different styles in the north, the south and the west in my opinion. I believe we are brought in to bring an international touch to the brand itself.” 

On the question of the incoming investment in the Indian hotel space and the return on the same post-Covid, Hayes shared, “As a designer, we are in the most critical point in hotel design because in the end the ultimate goal is to build a hotel and not a house. As far as owners are concerned along with the increasing cost of labour, we must create a linear relationship and assist our clients in every possible way in producing sleek and efficient buildings.” 

Speaking of the designing oriented changes in the post-Covid hotels, Kler said that designers must concentrate on making smaller conference halls and office spaces as more and more people will work remotely instead of going to offices. She also said that fine dining experiences can be made more semi private in design considering social distancing. She also added that considering the changing technological integration in the hospitality sector, the designers should consider making the front offices and receptions smaller as an increasing number of guests will check in and check out of the hotel with the click of their smartphones. 

Sharing the experience of working on a special project, Dobrota remarked that each project is special but he had one worked on this project wherein he had to necessarily incorporate the elements close to the owner. Hayes too spoke about the experience of having worked with the Emirates Palace on Abu Dhabi. 

Speaking of value addition as an international designer in the Indian Hotel space, Joehnk shared that most often the Indian hotel owners pull international designers to bring more international appeal and touch to their properties. 

Concluding the session, Saxena said, “I am extremely positive about the future and I hope all of us can do great work and continue to make beautiful hotels going forward”.


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