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Designing experiential spaces

Hotels and restaurants are reshaping the look, feel and appeal of their properties, using exterior and interior designs as one of the differentiating methods to create unique experiences. Hospitality spaces are moving from utilitarian functionality to contemporary aesthetics and experience driven developments engaging the senses. By Akshay Nayak

Historically, the development of lodging areas and facilities has mostly been driven by their physical locations, such as at major business/trading hubs, travel ports and tourist centres (railway stations, etc), or in locations lending themselves to defense, such as forts or castles. Today, while property location continues to be a key consideration, hotel design has moved from utilitarian functionality to contemporary aesthetics and experience driven developments engaging the senses.
The hospitality industry has evolved from a basic amenity to a customised individual experience platform where each hotel and restaurant strives to provide a unique experience to its patrons. Indians are travelling internationally and the global experience and exposure has influenced their palettes and sense of style, design and aesthetics immensely. The internet has also opened up doors to learn about different countries and cultures.
Due to increase in alternate accommodation bookings through a variety of digital platforms, hotels face a fierce competition to win customer demand. With a stronger focus on their overall experience, hotel guests today have higher expectations and the ever-evolving landscape of travellers have brought about a slew of changes within the hospitality industry. It is now becoming evident that hotels are reshaping the look, feel and appeal of their properties, using exterior and interior designs as one of their differentiating methods to create unique experiences. Likewise, restaurants are now designed to give a wholesome experience to the diner. The concept is ingrained right from the signage of the space to the upholstery, lights and menus. Spaces are designed based on trends, sustainability and international standards.

Prem Nath

Agreeing to the notion of changing sentiments in hotel designs, Prem Nath, principal architect, Prem Nath & Associates feels change is the only constant. Evolution is a continuous process and Indian hospitality industry is no different from its global counterpart. “With the world getting smaller by the day, hotels have become much sleeker and smarter; the definition of space has got more defined and the specifications and finishes have undergone a lot of refinement. Modern problems have got modern solutions with things getting more and more digital by the day; with increased security and safety issues, hotel designs have evolved with respect to the access controls, surveillance, etc. – so has automation within the rooms evolved from curtains to mood lighting; to sum it up, the said ‘evolution’ is fast and for the good,” he adds.
Today, design is constantly evolving based on the demand, space, functionality, luxury and location. Sonali Rastogi, founding partner, Morphogenesis, points out, “For instance, the design of suites, public spaces and the very notion of ‘luxury’ has changed in the last decade itself. It is now becoming highly experience driven as opposed to comfort and functionality. There has been a shift from air-conditioned rooms with comfortable furniture to one where the ‘space’ itself lends to luxury.”

Sonali Rastogi

Drawing a cue from Rastogi’s ‘experiential element’ point, Asha Sairam, design principal, Studio Lotus, notes that the primary shift has been one of experience – the modern Indian patron is no longer looking for a hospitality experience that superficially mimics the west, or fulfils a singular recreational brief. “Spaces must provide authentic as well as layered experiences that cater to their target demographic’s aesthetic sensibilities as well as functional expectations. Successful hospitality properties are able to complement their patron’s lifestyle, which is enabled largely through design – such as in the case of business hotels, that prioritise facilitation of remote working and a life on the go over the typical fixtures of a hotel property,” she said.
The restaurant sector across the country is also undergoing a facelift, with more of experiential dining spaces mushrooming in not just the metros but also in the B cities. Interior designer Sumessh Menon, owner, Sumessh Menon Associates, who has designed several theme-based dining outlets in India, reasons it is because of the new generation of customers, widely known as ‘millennials’. “They are always looking for that “something more” factor when it comes to dining out, which has in turn compelled interior designers to rethink a restaurant’s cosmetics. Large groups, unusual meal times, healthy food options, unique ambience and the opportunity for self-expression are all part of the dining experience for this generation. As designers, it is very important to consider these aspects while planning the design of the restaurant. Today restaurants are so much more than just about food. They are more of an opportunity for social experiences and exploration. The ambience matters, the comfort level and seating styles matter, hygienic facilities matter and even the unique services matter. As per the current trends, the millennial generation prefers large groups and so communal tables with unique seating styles become an instant hit. High energy bars always pull a crowd and in the case of this generation a crowd pulls in more of a crowd,” he points out.

Asha Sairam

“Exotic cuisines, traditional cuisines and fusion food; each evoking a different experience have started defining the design strategy of the industry. This has led to customisation of architecture that briefs the cuisine and enhances not only the dining experience but also the narration of story behind the cuisine,” observe Rakhee Bedi and Shobhit Kumar, founding directors, RSDA.

Cosmetic turnaround – The challenge
Though many facelifted structures of hotels and restaurants in India – a developing country for long, are sure head turners, there are many factors which have arrested or made the process of creating unique designs cumbersome. As Prem Nath notes, “The world is shrinking and horizon-land is at the diminishing end, lesser space is left for greenfield projects, due to which architects and designers are tasked with turning around an existing property to one that reverberates with charm and awe.”

Sumessh Menon

Agreeing with this view, Klaus Kienzler, studio head design service, Hyatt India, believes that though it is always easier to design a hotel from ground up, that isn’t always possible. With limited real estate availability, one has to often settle for giving an existing property a facelift. This is the biggest challenge hoteliers face in designing a modern day hotel – devising the building approach towards an existing structure. Turning old assets into something new, up to date with technology, and to the liking of the evolving mind-set of the traveller continues to remain an exacting albeit interesting task.
“We at Hyatt believe that building a modern design from a brownfield structure doesn’t mean compromising creativity, newness and ideation. At the same time, the process doesn’t have to undermine the previously built structure. We are always looking forward to collaborating with designers who can appreciate what was built, and at the same time, could assist us in evolving a brownfield project into a new work of art, one that is with the times and representative of the creativity and aesthetic each Hyatt brand stands for,” Kienzler adds.

Rakhee Bedi and Shobhit Kumar

On the similar lines, Amit Aurora and Rahul Bansal, partners, Group DCA see brownfield projects to be symbolic of the complementary architectural dialogue of past and present. “While historical hospitality environments revolved around shelter and food as resting centers for pilgrimage, the present hospitality paradigm aims to develop an experience that encourages conversation and mindfulness of the outdoor and indoor activities as well as of the visitors and the staff. Such projects promote urban strengthening and encourages revival efforts. However, while designing, the existing elements can be an opportunity or a challenge. The possibility of technology serving mankind to rekindle the lost shine of our old buildings is a budding promise, but can pose to be a challenge for traditional hospitality architecture in India,” they feel.
According to Deepika Arora, founder, Rosakue and advisor – South Asia, Dusit International, with all building types, challenges in designing modern-day hotels or restaurants lie in making the development sustainable and profitable.

Klaus Kienzler

In the Indian hospitality scenario, the increased presence of international brands across segments has led to experimentation over the years with the investment/product profile, i.e. smaller room sizes, limited F&B profiles (from fine dining restaurants to QSR set ups), etc. Hotel projects are mostly invariably budget driven with an objective of achieving a fine balance between the vision, budget, timescale, existing building condition and market factors. “The challenge of turning around a brownfield project therefore is taking traditional cost drivers and investment/design parameters that are well known and understood for new build projects, and applying them to the constraints of an existing building whilst maintaining the key financial metrics,” Arora explains.

Akshat Bhatt

This then involves challenges that include unpredictable investment cost and risk. Shiv Kashyap, VP -Technical Services, India & South Asia, Accor, says, “There might be times that we overrun the planned cost due to inefficient planning. We also have to keep in mind the lifecycle cost of the product – cheaper is always not cheap and expensive is always not expensive. We have to ensure that the cost-effective materials are used. Utility cost minimisation is a key factor and automation and Building Management System (BMS) plays a crucial role as you control only when you monitor. To overcome any challenges, it is important to have efficient and effective teams to help develop future-ready hotels,” he trusts.
The biggest challenge in turning around a brownfield project would be labour. Lack of awareness and education makes it hard even for a talented and hard-working work force to cope with advanced technology. Another challenge is lack of streamlined and transparent regulations. When one is working towards turning around a brownfield project, the task is even tougher. Pollution, infestation and contamination parameters have to be checked and corrected thoroughly prior to proceeding with creating a fresh outlay. This means, twice the amount of time and resources. The management has to be sensitive to this fact and, often, that is far from the case sadly, laments Minnie Bhatt, founder and creative director, Minnie Bhatt Designs who has designed many popular restaurants and bars in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi.

Vivek Singh Rathore

Smriti Raheja Sawhney, director, SSDesignex – a leading design firm with a portfolio of designing chic restaurants and the recently opened PVR Home, explains – while planning a hotel or a restaurant one must balance functional, layout, and aesthetic elements to develop a property that simultaneously meet the needs of the guests, the staff, and the owner. “In general, five-star properties have public areas that are heavily design oriented, with the functional aspects carefully integrated to enhance, yet not dominate the space. However, budget properties tend to favour function and layout over design, for maximum utility. Regardless of how the spaces are configured, the developer must consider and balance many conflicting needs before a design is ready for the contractor’s hand. The best examples provide properties that inspire; are safe, efficient, and cost effective; and that maintain their utility and charm through time,” she adds.

Smriti Raheja Sawhney

Kolkata-based Vivek Singh Rathore, design principal of Salient – which has designed hotels and resort properties like Amaya Resort and Raajkutir Swabhumi, opines, “One of the major challenges faced while designing a hotel or restaurant is to create a space that has a meaningful experience. These days people come to a certain hotel for its experience and it is our job to design the space in such a way that the experience is truly conveyed to them. At Amaya Resort, the design is to extensively pursue an association with nature, both visually and conceptually. At Raajkutir the experience is of old-world charm and the tradition of old zamindarbari. It celebrates the Bengali culture and craftsmanship. A lot of research goes into creating these experiences. Amaya Resort is designed to have its suites and residential clusters along the lake, swimming pool and theme gardens, creating a striking backdrop to their setting whereas Raajkutir is designed to have the interstitial spaces or the piazzas to engage the guests,” he explains.

Minnie Bhatt

Having designed a fair number of hotels and restaurants, especially brownfield projects, Akshat Bhatt, principal architect, Architecture Discipline doesn’t see challenges but for unique opportunities. “I think it’s fascinating to take something that is old and possibly forgotten, and give it new life. All this is essentially recuperation. We are running out of space, forests, and water. There aren’t enough resources to continuously produce new things. To that effect, we’ve done a few projects – The Postcard Hotels in Goa, The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata, The Oberoi, New Delhi – all of which are brownfield projects. All of these are now restored and redeveloped with a new identity,” he adds.

Sustainability in design

Shiv Kashyap

As conveyed by the design experts that bringing the experiential element to the structure, irrespective of new or a brownfield project, the hotel or restaurant will only strive to attract footfalls, for the spirit that it enlivens within itself, i.e. the experiential element. They also mentioned that to kindle the structure with a spirit, the update that it demands is high on Capex, mindful designs and usage of a lot of resources. In order to reduce costs and simultaneously the burden on the environment by minimising debris, interior designers and architects suggest using simple designs contouring throughout the expanse of the structure and also incorporating the use of eco-friendly materials, which will drive the designing of hotels and restaurants in the coming years too.
Vouching heavily on the use of eco-friendly materials, Prem Nath says that it is not a trend – trends come and go – but sustainable developments are the need of the hour and they are here to stay. “It may be noted that a lot of trends come and go, what stays and never gets out of date is a simple & functional design; this design system not only is most preferred but is comfortable to users from all strata of life and all age groups. It ensures the best maintainability and longevity for the owners-operators, too.”

Deepika Arora

In Indian hospital industry, just like the cuisine, the design has become ‘Glocal’ characterised by both global and local considerations. Spatial components derived from traditional design philosophies like Vastu, Feng Shui and Taoism; design elements that are inspired from various architecture styles that defines the design theme; all together present an elaborate design accent of the place. “Material experimentation is another perk of design freedom as it reinvents the design and extends the lifespan of design. It includes use of modern materials in traditional pattern and indigenous materials in a modern arrangement along with a fusion of design elements. Use of eco-friendly and local materials in open plans reduces the energy consumption and material wastage; which adds to the quality of the restaurant. Today, hospitality industry demands design to narrate the journey of a restaurant and to induce a sensory experience. This advancement of design knowledge helped designers is pushing the limits of architecture in hospitality industry and provide more user centric designs,” elaborate Bedi and Kumar of RSDA.

Amit Aurora and Rahul Bansal

According to Kienzler, there are various trends that are influencing the design strategy of hotels these days. Keeping this in mind, the industry has moved towards adopting digitally dynamic strategies, which reflects in the design of hotels as well. Mood-themed lighting, signature scented meeting rooms and motion activated air conditioning are just a few examples of how technology is being embedded into hotel designs. “Another such trend can be attributed to globalisation, owing to which the average traveller of today is exposed to different cultures and cuisines, and hence, wants to experiment with these during their stay at a hotel here in India. As a result of this, Indian restaurants are no longer serving only Indian cuisines. The methods involved in preparation and presentation of world cuisine also constitute a factor that is taken into consideration while designing restaurants and kitchen spaces in hotels. Additionally, hospitality industry is getting more conscious towards its commitment to the environment. We at Hyatt have resolved to go green, prohibiting the use of plastic at all our properties. Hence, we ensure this is reflected in the design of our hotels as well, involving no usage of plastic in either the architecture or décor,” he explained.
Sairam adds that trending on top in the hospitality and F&B industry is the approach of employing flexible, multi-use spaces – designed to offer guests a series of differentiated experiences. A restaurant can no longer be just a restaurant today – it has to cater to the growing need for spaces that enable a multitude of functions, such as co-working and social interaction. Besides, restaurants are now offering more than just meals, with retail pockets, culinary workshops, and brand experiences taking up floor space to establish a deeper connect with patrons.

Rahul Shankwalker

Rahul Shankwalker, partner, Studio HBA, feels that restaurants will see a significant push towards using local and seasonal produce to make sensational food much in line with what’s happening in the design of the spaces. “In hotels I see that a need for socially responsible business will be a norm,” he says.
A collective shift in consumer values and behaviour began several years ago, when authenticity, sustainability and simplicity started to emerge as new drivers of consumer demand. The hospitality industry has already started to address these initial trends. The economic downturn fuelled a new awareness of these issues and accelerated the shifts in consumer values and behaviour even further – strengthening a focus on simplicity, restraint, technology, family, well-being, and value. The industry must address these shifts, voices Sawhney.

Khozema Chitalwala

“The need of the hour today is to start practising sustainable architecture. It is important for the new-age architects to incorporate sustainability concepts while outlining a project. Encompassing renewable & indigenous resources, energy efficiency systems and vernacular design styles is the way forward in order to reduce the carbon footprints and at the same time rediscovering the Indian architectural heritage,” concludes, Khozema Chitalwala, founder, Designers Group.

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