Q&A - Todd Lundgren

Todd Lundgren, founder of CallisonRTKL, and Ramsay Ritchie, associate principal, on the changes currently taking place in the sector and what the future of hotel design might look like

Words by Toby Maxwell

HOSPITALITY HAS never exactly been an ‘easy’ industry. Success depends on innovation, attention to detail, hard work and high levels of customer service. More recently, even those getting all of these components right have found the challenge of a global pandemic to be the biggest and most unexpected of tests.

And yet, as our hotel focus shows, the sector’s resilience is clear for all to see. New hotels are opening all over the world, while existing brands are reinventing, evolving and enhancing their offerings, assisted by some of the very best design and architecture practices as they seek to deliver what guests will come to demand and expect from a post-Covid future.

Our inspiring examples include the conversion of a historic former monastery near Lake Garda, an almost-hidden London retreat just off the busy streets of the capital, and a grand bank building in the US painstakingly transformed into a luxurious and welcoming place to stay. What they all have in common is an impressive level of care and consideration for their surroundings and a real emphasis on setting their hospitality offering some distance apart from the norm.

It is not clear quite when these most turbulent of periods will give way to the altogether calmer waters that we all hope for, but there are strong signs that the future of hotels – while very different – will be indeed be bright.

What are some of the key elements in creating spaces that move beyond being purely functional to become more ‘experiential’ for the user?

Todd Lundgren: Even prior to Covid-19, we were already experiencing a sea shift in the evolution of luxury hospitality, with designers and operators thinking about psychographics instead of demographics and focusing on creating authentic experiences. Hotels that truly connect with the unique local culture of where they are – serving as a basecamp for that connection and exploration rather than as an enclave separate from that – will be the future.

Relationships with local businesses could take off as part of a bid to repurpose valuable hotel square footage that would have once been given over to a gym, with guests instead directed to a local affiliate. Meanwhile, creating spaces within the hotel that can be activated through collaborations, events and strong partnerships is a great way to bring energy to a space and keep people engaged.

Holistic wellness will also become increasingly important as people seek to totally switch off following the challenges of the past year, while sustainability as an offer is going to be expected and required in the future and it needs to be done in a meaningful way. In a recent study of luxury travellers by Stylus, nearly three-quarters believed travel should support local communities and economies. This is something that we are seeing: I am having four different conversations with hoteliers who are looking to make their properties more carbon neutral. Some are even allowing members of their loyalty programmes to use credits to off set their carbon emissions.

New hotel developers should be looking at how their development touches the land. They need to ask themselves, ‘if you pick up the hotel, how would the land have changed and how do you put things back into the community and into guests both restoratively and regeneratively?’

Carbon neutral should be the new non-negotiable baseline. This approach will need active collaboration from all project stakeholders, which won’t happen overnight but if done successfully can benefit people, profits and the planet immensely. It is an area that as a firm we are passionate about, and it’s an exciting space to explore.

How does the creative process typically work between you and your hotel clients? Has this client/design relationship become more collaborative over the years?

Ramsay Ritchie: Due to the increase in remote working across our global practice, we now often connect with our clients several times each week and the pace of our collaborative process with all our stakeholders is a lot faster than before.

Our clients now expect their consultant teams to get things right first time. We even have current clients who ask us to run mini competitions in-house, as design charettes, to facilitate their exploration of diverse ideas quickly and effectively.

Ramsay Ritchie
Ramsay Ritchie

We are finding that time zones are fully manageable, with us able to work a 24/7 design process between our various international offices and tailor the best team resources for the design challenges that our clients face. Whether these are sustainability, operational, interiors or technically focused, we can rapidly assemble teams of experts to investigate and research solutions in reduced time frames. For example, we are currently working on several hospitality projects with our Dallas, Dubai, Los Angeles, Miami and New York practices on the same project work simultaneously.

In what ways have the events of the past 18 months moved the goalposts for some of the fundamental principles of hotel design? What will hotel design look like post-Covid?

RR: The London hospitality industry has been almost at a standstill over the past year while hoteliers and investors pause on new decisions until international travel restrictions ease. Hospitality companies are keeping an eye on international travel trends and confirming who will be coming back, and in what numbers, before they make new significant capital decisions. Some contacts have concerns that they may not be able to sell all of their current guest room stock and may consider dividing up some of their space instead. For example, it is anticipated there could be up to a 50% drop in international business travel post-pandemic, which may result in longer stay products being required with some changes from hotel to branded residences.

We see that travellers are looking at different types of hotel offerings and at the longer stay market. The 90-day residency rule may need to be relaxed in the future for London, and branded service apartments and residential blended models could be something that we see more of. There already seems to be an overlap between build-to-rent and other hospitality models, including later living and co-working. Due to the pandemic, I think there will be political motivation to promote more blended or mixed-use buildings with different types of residential, hotel and office space combined on the same site. This could significantly de-risk the development and offer more resilience and security than a single-use site.

Mixed-use complexes combining residential and hotel spaces like this are becoming increasingly popular, as Ritchie explains. Image Credit: HUNTER KERHART
Mixed-use complexes combining residential and hotel spaces like this are becoming increasingly popular, as Ritchie explains. Image Credit: HUNTER KERHART

New technology will also be important. Things like circadian lighting that matches hormones and rhythms are already being used in later living projects and we are now seeing hoteliers also asking for this. There will be a lot of hoteliers upgrading lighting, meanwhile changes to interiors like the removal of fabric wallcoverings will be made to enable deeper cleans.

Coronavirus has accelerated changes for the industry and potentially sped us up 20 years into the future. We are seeing some luxury products overlapping with the lifestyle market and some business travellers moving to budget brands. There could be a boom in both the lifestyle and the budget markets to make cities more attractive for different types of travel.

What role can architects and designers play in helping clients develop new ways of doing business in the years to come?

RR: The key for many great hotel stays will be what hotels can also offer in terms of outside space. Guests will want roof terraces, balconies, proximity to outside space and any facility where dining is available on an outside terrace. People generally do not want to sit in an enclosed room or a standard restaurant anymore, they want the full lifestyle offering and localised experience.

This image The Four Seasons Los Angeles Private Residences, a residential complex adjacent to the five-star hotel. Image Credit: HUNTER KERHART
The Four Seasons Los Angeles Private Residences, a residential complex adjacent to the five-star hotel. Image Credit: HUNTER KERHART

Architects will play an important part of blending an urban resort design through the usual city offering, but it may be more difficult for the London market, where space is tight and there are also significant height restrictions.

Operators are realising that they will need to have the same number of covers outside as they have inside. Generally, the type of operator matters as this will become crucial to the offering. People naturally feel safer outside, and I think that’s what will happen all year round, no matter the weather. They will want some sort of sheltered covered space where they can relax and with this in mind, we will see roofs, courtyards and transitional spaces changing.

Please tell us about a recent project that has utilised new ideas, new technology or innovative creative thinking.

RR: We have some current ground-breaking projects where we need to combine master planning skills, customer experience, brand expertise, operational planning, interior concepts, building codes research and carbon-positive design in one synchronised process. This requires 3D Revit models to be shared following kick-off meetings with computational design analysis, to extrapolate optimised design solutions in a matter of weeks, not months.

The benefits to our clients and multi-discipline design teams are immense, as engineering and interiors can be coordinated in parallel with sustainable design solutions informing each. Providing this level of detail at early design stages allows us to see where these elements can have the greatest impact on our architectural concepts. Once animations and photo-real images are prepared at the completion of concept design, it is evident to all stakeholders involved how advanced the design work is and the advantages of a customised process that allows significant technical coordination to be integrated at much earlier design stages than was customary before.

Progressive Media International Limited. Registered Office: 40-42 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8EB, UK.Copyright 2022, All rights reserved.