With Covid, Do Hotels Need to Rethink Design? Is it Too Early to Decide? When Life Comes Back to Normal, Will Hotels Start Serving Again Their Original Purpose.

We ask this question of Sarabjeet Singh, noted hotel designer and consultant. With his vast experience in this business, he suggests some changes that may become necessary. But yet also cautions that it may be wiser to wait and watch and hope the Vaccine can help restore normalcy again!

Large Double Height Lobby and Lounge with spaced out seating groups

From times immemorial, people have been living and working in togetherness and this has become an integral and an inseparable part of our lives for earnings, meetings, socialising, celebrations, learning and religious activities. Hotels are primarily designed as social hubs for people to come together to meet, interact, socialise, entertain and celebrate occasions with pampered hospitality.

The flip side is that all we are doing for the prevention from Corona is, in that sense, anti social, as we are maintaining social distancing under stringent operating procedures. With both, the verypurpose of building hotels, and the prevention of corona, moving in opposite directions, the solution to further designing a COVID free hotel would affect the very basic principle and meaning of Hotel Design, as have understood it the years going back to the pre-covid days.

Open Air and well Ventilated Restaurants and Fine Dining-areas with spaced out seating

The design sensibility of a hotel is to evolve functional and user friendly spaces compatible to the hotel brand philosophy and concept with creative forms and finishes to physically experience with all the senses of look, touch, and feel  which is completely contrary to the cause for the corona infection.
Other than taking physical precautions as specified by WHO and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt of India, to my mind there is less need to panic and in anticipation, destroy the basic fabric of design composition, which has taken centuries for its evolution and therefore the experience it offers, if they are still to remain as “ Hotels”.

However, should one believe to be living with the existence of corona for longer than expected, as a hypothetical assumption, hotels in the future would largely need to focus on multiple factors for planning and designing with the key issue of spaces with larger expanses. Some of the broader new parameters may well include:

  • From the arrival areas such as the reception lobby and the lobby lounge to the movement circulation areas to minimise physical traffic as compared to the present linear movement corridors
  • Spaced out facilities with maybe intervention of open to sky landscaped courts hemmed into interior spaces with distanced out island seatings for all public guest areas.
  • Maintenance friendly materials, surfaces and finishes for cleanliness and optimum hygienic conditions.
  • Reorganised business areas with independent self contained seatings placed at a safer distance.
  • Technical services to ensure the best air conditioning system with specified air changes including a possible intake of treated fresh air etc.
  • Spas, swimming pools, Gyms and other such activity areas could be put on the hold, and will acquire less importance in the new scheme of things.
  • Check-in facilities could be planned with larger arrival areas to maintain the required distances.
  • Introduce Automation and Artificial Intelligence system to minimise human and surface contact.
  • A desirable layout option would therefore demand a much larger land footprint with preferably a low rise and a horizontally spread building structure with a possible radial plan inspired from Lutyens Delhi Master Plan with multiple connections of circulation corridors could be one option wherein the islands therefore created by default could be used for various spaced out facilities. One could quote Taj West-End as an example for that matter.
  • Considering the need to provide larger spaces to maintain safe distance and with the high costs of land particularly in the cities, the consequential economic viability of the hotel maybe put to question.

While we are passing through the most uncertain transition of the global pandemic and to ensure safety, all physical precautions are been taken to prevent it from spreading further and, sooner than later, one expects and hopes to see life returning to the earlier normal. In the meanwhile, one could resist from succumbing to the pressure and try to give more time for the crisis to settle down and hope for the revival of the happy hotel days again, making it unnecessary to make major alterations in the overall planning and design.
At this point in time, all other spaces for people to live in, meet, get together or essentially put together such as airport terminals, airplanes, shops, shopping centres, malls, metros and religious places etc are virtually remaining the way as they are, while only finding solutions that ensure essential precautions.  Hotels with the existing infrastructure are also following the same practice with standard operating procedures and therefore there seems little need to react impulsively and immediately to alter the designs unless necessary, despite vaccination.
The current SOP trends of strict safety measures would then hopefully fade away and life would rise back to its earlier routine, and hotels will be able to serve their original purpose once again!

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