HIX/THINX: Inner City Pressure – What’s Next for Urban Hospitality?

Whilst most major cities have resumed regular programming following the pandemic’s disruption, a cursory look behind the concrete and glass facade reveals that the purpose, composition and core values of the modern metropolis have all changed.

The impact may not be as visible as the emptied streets and shuttered shops that characterized the height of lockdowns, but transformative stressors with the scale of COVID rarely deal in immediacies alone. Indeed, nearly three years on, the lingering effects of remote working, dwindling commutes, forced closures and shifts in social preference are continuing to drive change in the global urban fabric.

But what does this mean for hotels? As with other big city staples like arenas, retail complexes and high-rise apartments, hotels have long been anchors of urban development – facilitating increased tourism, business, leisure and social function alike – and the most effective and important city hotels are often those that reflect the change of their surroundings.

Think the former Ace Shoreditch’s iconic lobby, and the way its communal public square design facilitated looser working habits and more informal guest interaction as a new generation of millennial guests flocked to the capital – an early 2010s switch up that would go on to inform a decade of front-desk experimentation. If operators wish to keep up with the new city landscape, something just as radical will be required.

In this latest instalment of HIX/THINX we look at where hotels stand the new metropolis, and how operators and designers alike can best prepare.

Valo Hotel combines workspace and hospitality design for a hybrid city hub

Open Office

Digital Nomads are on the rise. Travelling from place to place and working anywhere their laptop can find signal, this demographic has grown quickly in recent years to encompass some 32 million people and is predicted to reach one billion strong by 2035. Luckily for operators, the hotel has been a key space for digital nomads since the movement’s early days, but as the market swells there will no doubt be demand for increasingly specialised design schemes to serve this guest.

The hybrid work/hotel interior at Helsinki’s Valo Hotel were designed collaboratively by hospitality studio Fyra and office space specialists Oy. With a blurred line between the two built into the hotel’s very foundations, the hybrid approach manifests as guestrooms that double as workspaces, and a lobby co-working lounge featuring multiple volumes of seating, standing, leisure and cubicle space.

As HIX’s WorkFromHotel pavilion showed last year, the design of hotel workspaces is still evolving and refining its offer to suit ever-shifting work habits, but it is this level of dedicated hybrid design that will ultimately draw the custom of a demographic who desire spaces as fluid and freeing as their lifestyles have become.

Helen & Hard’s ‘What We Share’ showcases an open, interpretable blueprint for co-living architecture

Big City Living

Over in Hong Kong, an experiment has been taking place as investors scramble to transform their hotel assets into co-living facilities. Attempting to capitalise on the rising cost of living space, this move would see hotels placed front and centre of the city living debate, but where it might be profitable that’s not to say a direct translation is preferable for either guest or owner. As such, long term hotel living demands a typology of its own.

Locke and other aparthotel brands have been giving form to this crossover residential/hospitality function with studio rooms, kitchenettes and neighbourhood friendly leisure spots, but a true co-living hotel remains elusive. If the sector is to make inroads in city living then the design must accommodate true life, not just long-term stays.

Scandinavia is, as usual, ahead of the curve on this one; a look at Helen & Hard’s co-living Venice pavilion ‘What we Share’ showcases the radical difference between hotel and co-living design via a mixture of transparent and opaque components, as well as a combination of defined functional space and open zones for users to interpret as they wish.

Likewise, the Tetris and Sandberg-designed Ibihaven, a senior co-living centre in Denmark, adopts a Greek Agora-inspired ‘town square’ layout and sees 76 apartments arranged around a courtyard with a library, lounge, gym and workshop at its heart. So, where hotels are often divided spaces with limits and clear usage journeys, successful co-living venues all have one thing in common in their promotion of free and open expression – the entire opposite.

Baranowitz & Kronenberg’s design for The Cube highlights competitive socialising as a form of community engagement

Community Calibration

Post-COVID ONS stats show that people felt a stronger sense of belonging in their local community during the pandemic, whilst research by the Local Data Company found an 11.6% rise of local food shop openings between March 2020 and May 2021.

Amidst a broader uptick in appreciation for hyper-local places and people, these stats signal that this sense of place can resonate both socially and commercially, and should be incorporated into the design process accordingly. This will mean going further than communal lobbies and street-facing restaurants, and means developing hotels as pieces of dedicated social infrastructure that serve travellers and locals with equal consideration.

The 15 Minute City – a new strategy being employed by Accor to balance these elements – champions spaces usable by both global visitors and so too those who live or work within 15 minutes of the property. Giving this ideology a quantifiable boundary allows operators to see what is absent within this remit and fine tune the hotel’s offer to better suit the area, or even partner with specific local businesses to create stronger bonds with a community.

Running parallel, programming will play a similarly crucial role, and beyond the traditional communal spaces, designers should be looking to heighten and enhance the community experience with activity. Competitive social platform of The Cube – a game-ified urban playground in Manchester designed by Baranowitz & Kronenberg wherein guests can face off against friend and stranger alike – will be key assets for chain operators looking to capitalise on a city community’s newfound cohesion.

Want to hear actionable, practical and expert advice on how to futureproof your city hotel? Join us at London’s BDC on 17 & 18 November, where we’ll be discussing this topic further as part of a panel session with some of the studios and operators mentioned.

Register your interest here.