Pandemic brings new challenges to design concepts

NATIONAL REPORT—The COVID-19 pandemic has given architecture and design firms the opportunity to change the way they collaborate among team members, and to create new design elements that take into account the enhanced health and safety guidelines of the “new normal.”

Three of the executives that Hotel Business connected with—Keith Simmel, principal, Cooper Carry’s Hospitality Studio; Rick Gardner, principal and practice leader, HBG Design; and Tobias Strohe, partner, Johnson Nathan Strohe—pointed out that their staff moved from an office setting to working from home during the pandemic.

Strohe was impressed with the speed at which his staff was able to adapt to working at home. “Before stay-at-home orders were issued, we started working remotely and continue to do so for the time being,” he said. “We spend a lot more time on virtual conferencing platforms and continue to find ways to stay connected as a team. Physical travel to out-of-state project sites as well as in-person meetings have come to a halt, but we are still safely on-site as needed with nearby projects.”

Scott P. Rosenberg, president of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates and principal of HVS Design, noted that his team has been busy throughout the pandemic, with new work for the second half of 2020.

“Surprisingly, we are seeing that owners are anxious to start moving projects forward again,” he said. “Another interesting point is that many owners with projects either ready for permit approvals or under construction prior to the pandemic pushed hard on these projects to continue full steam ahead, whether properties were closed or had only a few guests, thus not affecting guest experience.”

Post-pandemic design will emphasize cleanliness, and social distancing will be adapted into public area concepts as the industry moves forward.

“The reality of cleanliness will forever be part of our industry as well as the design/visual feel of cleanliness in the use of materials, easy maintenance, and long-lasting surfaces and textures,” said Rosenberg. “An unknown is: Will guestroom carpet and fabric chairs go by the wayside? Or will products such as countertops, carpets and fabrics be re-engineered in the near future to overcome any future germ concerns?”

“Common spaces should be designed in a way to allow for smaller pockets of seating without leaving noticeable gaps of empty space,” noted Strohe. “Within the guestroom, consider ways to limit the number of surfaces guests have to touch by using voice command technology for lights, faucets and TV remotes.”

Simmel believes designed outdoor spaces will become “primary rather than auxiliary gathering spots, where distancing measures can be more easily implemented,” adding, “And, of course, we will continue to implement design strategies that emphasize less contact—destination elevators, wider, less confining areas for gathering—as we move forward.”

Gardner focused on the guestroom. “We like to think about hotel design in a post-pandemic world like this: If you were to pick up a hotel room and turn it upside down, everything that falls to the floor goes away,” he said. “This means all the soft goods like bolster pillows, bed throws, etc., are eliminated; we’re leaning toward a clear simplification of materials, along with reducing nonwashable materials—that could include shifting from curtains to washable blinds; using antiviral and antimicrobial fabrics in the guestroom; and antimicrobial grout in the bathrooms. Surfaces will change and transform; we’re looking at LVT [luxury vinyl tile]instead of carpet; new and improved filtration systems and air handling; and making touchpoints touchless, using technology like Alexa and Google.”

Rosenberg agreed that LVT will be a frequent choice in guestrooms, because “the ease to clean it will also factor into decision-making.” He also noted that he recently saw LVT manufacturers adapting to have their product be better suited for bathrooms as well.

On popular color schemes in guestrooms and public spaces, he said, “The color white will be around longer, but still keep in mind that hospitality should not become hospital-like. You need a mix of warm and neutral hues that are timeless to keep it fresh for a longer period of time.”

With social-distancing measures in place at every hotel, Strohe pointed out that yearlong outdoor activities and venues will become more prevalent.

“Stretching the season of outdoor environments with warming devices, misters and shade solutions has allowed hotels to utilize outdoor areas for longer than usual,” he said, turning his focus indoors. “For interior spaces, there is a greater attention to air quality and cleanliness, including incorporating more plants in public areas. Reconfiguring spaces to work more efficiently and repurposing some of the freed-up interior room remains an important focus.”

All four executives are eager to put 2020 behind them, and provided their forecast for next year.

“Our forecast is strong. We’re already seeing demand begin to return as areas of the country reopen,” said Gardner. “Many of the pauses that we’ve experienced on projects are starting to move forward as our clients’ businesses move forward. Those projects that have not restarted only add to a strong long-term outlook for 2021 and beyond.”

Strohe pointed out that renovations should see an uptick “once troubled assets change ownership,” adding, “A dip in construction costs may encourage additional activity to some extent, as we have yet to see a softening in the contracting and subcontracting market, which tends to always be delayed from the impact the design field experiences.”

Simmel expects a lot of activity in the resort space and with renovations. “We believe there will be owners who are looking to tee up projects to take advantage of the current economic conditions and be ready to come out of the gate once we emerge from this situation, whenever that occurs,” he said.

“Next year will bring new opportunities and challenges as society begins to cautiously ramp back up,” said Rosenberg. “There is a world still to be designed waiting for us in 2022. Technology and branding will still be important to set properties apart. Soft brands and flexibility will be at the forefront. The brands may choose to re-evaluate which flags really make sense, perhaps even retiring some flags.”