HIX/THINX: Stop the Clocks – What does the rise of slow hospitality mean for hotel design?

Pushing back against the increasingly fast pace of modern living, the slow movement wants guests to take a breath and appreciate every second. How can hotel designers apply this to hospitality spaces?

Slow and Steady

Taking it slow is nothing new. The last few years might have seen the prospect of slower living become increasingly attractive and attainable as remote work entered the mainstream, but many new disciples are unaware of the wider cultural movement that has been bubbling away for over a century. 

As far back as 1935, British mathematician Bertrand Russel had been calling for a mass slow down in his essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’. Likewise, much of the counterculture movements of the 1960s pushed for a step back from the increasing pace of life. However, it was the controversial 1986 opening of a McDonald’s outlet within Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, and the protests that followed, that sparked what would come to be known as the ‘slow movement’ – a loose network of slower approaches to everything from finance and food to cinema, gardening, education, fashion and more. 

Resisting the mantra that faster means better, and seeing ‘slow’ not only as a remedy for rat-race stresses but so too a broader opposition to mass-production, individualist isolation and corporate consumerism, the movement has become more relevant as the world continues to speed up. Now, after flirting with the hospitality industry for some time, ‘slow hospitality’ is set to be the next step for a swathe of operators seeking to combine resort-style relaxation with more ethical and communal-minded business models. But will it take?

The Slow Experience 

‘An emerging trend is seeing holidaymakers choosing to slow down the tempo and experience destinations on a deeper level, making more genuine connections with local people and cultures along the way’ found a 2020 report by The Travel Association. ‘Slow travel is as much about enjoying the journey as it is the destination. With more time in one destination, it can potentially reduce the journey footprint and provide travellers with the chance to support more locally run businesses – resulting in a positive impact on the local economy and community.’ 

Where a slower experience has long been the goal for many resorts, wellness sanctuaries or off-grid properties, these locations are not always strictly ‘slow’ hotels or adherents to the movement. Sure, the guest might feel as if they have decelerated, but the same cannot always be said of the operator, the locals, the staff, or the designers. Indeed, the ‘slow’ mantra intends to create an environment and model of operation where the benefits stretch beyond paying customers. 

As such, incorporating other areas of slow philosophy like slow food and sustainable foraging excursions have seen hoteliers develop slow strategies that delay the instant gratification of typical hospitality in favour of something that ties into the hotel ‘experience’, and likewise reduces the property’s impact on surrounding land and communities. Meanwhile, initiatives like the various hotel vehicle concepts that take guests beyond the hotel’s remit and emphasise more meaningful personalised itineraries also play into this consumption shift.

However, the experience and programming of slow activities can only carry a project so far, and if the movement is to find a place in mainstream hospitality, it will require a new design typology that instils the physical hotel space with slower ideals. 

Slow Solutions

One solution may be the broader adoption of dispersed hotels – properties that deconstruct the all-under-one-roof hotel model and spread it around a town or city, housing different elements in various existing buildings. This model has already been used to great effect by city-based projects like Tokyo’s Hanare and rural getaways like Gloustcershire’s ‘village in a village’ Thyme estate – both of which force the guest to explore their surroundings and create a journey between elements that encourages slower, more meaningful interactions with the hotel.

The use of existing properties within the dispersed model also plays into the sensitivity and sustainability angle of the slow movement, meaning less disruptive newbuilds and more aesthetic cohesion with the surrounding area. This has formed a key principal for the aptly named Slow Collective – a hotel brand by former Design Hotels boss Claus Sendlinger that may be the industry’s loudest proponent of slow values thus far.

Placing its hotels within existing townhouses and villas, Slow’s growing portfolio showcases how the slow movement is now impacting how designers interact with hospitality space. The brand’s upcoming Flussbad complex in Berlin will be the largest project yet, and a testing ground for slow values at scale. 

As such, as the design vocabulary for this niche is no longer limited to the expected resort or countryside settings. Inner-city projects like Paris’ Nuage are testing the boundaries for slow hospitality in an urban environment, something that might seem like the antithesis of deceleration though leverages design to resist the frenetic pace that surrounds it.

‘It’s an urban retreat, but the term ‘retreat’ often conjures images of luxurious spas and opulence’ owner Olivier Brueuil tells Frame. ‘Our focus is more on slow luxury – a luxury that’s less about materialism and more about time and space… (the design) encourages travellers to spend more time inside and limits access from outside visitors. Quiet is the new loud in hospitality.’