Q&A: Paul Wells, partner, Dexter Moren Associates

Paul Wells, partner at Dexter Moren Associates talks about the need for collaboration and flexibility when designing a successful hospitality scheme, and the impact of Covid on this process

Words by Toby Maxwell

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

Hotels obviously have a primary focus providing the basic requirements of a functional stay; a good night’s sleep, a fantastic shower and a good quality F&B offering, but staying somewhere is also about the experience of being in a place, both the building and its location. It is now commonplace for hotels to respond directly to their location through their design, artwork and community interaction; be it co-working spaces, welcoming F&B spaces or destination roof bars, the prescribed set of brand guidelines has been torn up.

Experience for me is more about creating a lasting positive impression rather than providing a kit of physical parts. We design all our projects with a strong focus on the perspective of the end user and an understanding of market trends. Welcoming the local community into a hospitality building can create both a grounded sense of place and a lively atmosphere. Many of us now use hotel facilities as visitors rather than guests, with friends or for business. I believe the value a good architect and interior designer can bring to this process is pivotal to providing guests with an experience that they will take away with them, and hopefully cause them to return.

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

Collaboration with all stakeholders is essential to the successful delivery of any project and we are increasingly working closely with our clients to develop schemes that respond to financial drivers and design objectives. There is a very clear understanding that the ‘instagramable’ design now will carry far more marketing potential than a more traditional design.

Recently, we worked closely with our clients for the Hyatt Place London City East to deviate from brand standards to create a rooftop destination bar, now named PocketSquare. The clients bought to the project a vision for the site as they could foresee the added benefit of a roof bar in this location. They were right, and the collaborative process between ourselves, them and Hyatt led to the correct design solution.

Paul Wells, partner, Dexter Moren Associates
Paul Wells, partner, Dexter Moren Associates

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?

We are working on a number of hospitality schemes now where we have reviewed the design with an eye on the Covid situation. These range from revisiting hostel layouts to reduce room occupancy and reliance on shared facilities, a rise in feasibilities for serviced apartments where guests have more autonomy, or reworking existing designs to reduce touchpoints. The latter has made the use of technology ever more prevalent within design, whether this is the introduction of smartphone digital keys, remote digital check-in, in-room controls, motion sensor lighting or sensor-operated taps and air dryers. All of this technology of course existed previously but the pandemic has pushed its use further up the agenda.

Another shift has been in collaboration with our MEP consultants, we now are increasingly having discussions over whether shared ventilation systems are being perceived as a risk. Minimal risk as they may be, in some cases we are looking at independent room FCUs with direct ventilation pipework to external walls. Opportunities to introduce openable windows for rapid ventilation are also now being more commonly discussed. Our interior design team is exploring ideas relating to how easily surfaces and finishes can be cleaned, creating a shift in the mentality behind design decisions. Hard surfaces and the use of anti-viral, antibacterial materials are commonplace.

Magnolia Park Hotel and Golf Club will utilise sustainable technology
Magnolia Park Hotel and Golf Club will utilise sustainable technology

A final thought: how will the pandemic change the way occupants use shared facilities, and will in-room dining and exercising became more common? This will in turn drive a requirement for larger rooms or flexible furniture layouts. We haven’t seen this yet but time will tell whether guest expectations have shifted in this direction.

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

One thing that I have experienced is that, due to our exposure to the hospitality market, new hotel openings, conferences, webinars and journals, we are in a unique position to spot trends and develop designs that respond to these patterns. Often we are able to suggest amendments to building programmes and client briefs that they may not have thought of. In addition, as architects and interior designers, we see space differently and our role is to work alongside our client to develop schemes that maximise both their commercial viability and longevity in the market place.

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

Earlier I mentioned Hyatt Place London City East where we deviated from brand standards to introduce a roof bar. This building also has the technology in place for smartphone key cards and remote check-in. Another project where technology and sustainability are key drivers is Magnolia Park Hotel and Golf Club. This project is currently progressing through planning but already we have designs in place for air source heat pumps, rainwater harvesting for irrigation and reduced reliance on air conditioning.

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