|Boutique hotels such as The Latham Hotel in Philadelphia offer interesting architecture and design elements.
This is the first in a four-part series of articles exploring the similarities and differences between the design, experience and operations of small, boutique hotels and large-scale resorts.
As an architect, I have been fortunate to design a wide variety of different types of buildings. Of these, boutique hotels are special and have provided the greatest design challenges and rewards.
I have stayed at many such hotels over the course of my travels, ranging from the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee to Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. Most recently, I have been involved in the renovations of The Latham Hotel, a landmark property in Philadelphia. In doing this work, I was able to reconnect with some of the reasons boutique hotels are so interesting architecturally, including the possibilities they provide to an architect, a community and a hotel operator.
Targeted guest experience
Boutique hotels are different because they are designed to create a specifically unique experience, usually for a highly targeted audience. Hotel owners and operators have an opportunity to identify the type of guest they want to attract and do in-depth market research to know what those guests really want from their hospitality experience. For instance, young urban vacationers with pets or frequent business travelers who want a change from the grind of the road might be the target. In either case, the space in which they stay, sleep, relax or work can be designed for them, with their style in mind, emphasizing amenities and features that matter to them.
This level of specificity provides real opportunity to have a distinctive approach to design and service. It also allows for creativity, exploration and innovation in honing and refining the experiential essence that will attract these guests. A targeted guest population, and others who want to feel like they are part of that group, should influence a general design approach. Within that, there are a variety of design materials, colors, sounds, aromas and lighting options that can be used to emphasize the hotel’s character and make the hotel environment memorable.
Character of the structure
Often, boutique hotels are situated in adaptive re-use of buildings that previously housed other purposes. There are several reasons for this.
In urban areas, such as at the Latham, these buildings often are in prime locations. This can be especially true when the structure was built in the 19th or early 20th century and the surrounding neighborhood has gone through socio-economic transitions. These are buildings that were constructed before the baby boomer generation and the rebirth of habitable American cities, and are generally in central locations that are easily accessible.
Second, many of these buildings usually have unique stylistic design qualities due in part to its historical context and the resulting use of materials and workmanship that would be financially out-of-reach today, such as hand-laid tile work, crown moldings, marble floors and columns. All such elements have a distinctive aesthetic based on the age, history, and place of the building. Both the location and pre-existing stylistic look contribute to a unique character for a boutique hotel that simply cannot be easily replicated in new construction and lends itself to a one-of-a-kind experience.
The design of the boutique in an adaptive re-use should come from the intersection of the desired guest experience and the existing character. As long as a building has “good bones,” there is an opportunity for creative solutions to architectural challenges that result in doing things that one would not typically do in the course of designing a new building. For this reason, boutiques should be considered on the leading edge of design innovation, which in and of itself is attractive to many guests.
No two alike
With some exceptions, many existing buildings that are adapted to boutique hotels were not designed to offer what modern hotels do—a large number of guest rooms with similar size and shape. Instead, there is usually a varied floor plate configuration and atypical structural bays. While these issues might be challenges for adaptive re-use to office or other purposes, in a boutique hotel, they can be an opportunity.
Many guests who travel to the same destination more than once often stay at the same hotel. In that vein, boutique hotels attract guests who not only want consistency in service, amenities, and rewards, but also guests who want to be excited by the experience of staying in a different room with a new design, layout and aesthetic each time. One room might be uniquely situated for in-room yoga while another might be perfect for when the kids come along. Boutique hotels, with their varying layouts and creative spacial solutions, are able to meet this demand time and time again without losing the intimacy of a truly hospitable stay.
Boutique hotels are each a world of their own, where old and new collide, where guests can feel special, where owners and operators can differentiate and where architects can challenge themselves and the constructs of modern hospitality design. Given all the choices a traveler today has, including ultra-high end resorts, mixed-use urban towers and flagship chains (all of which our firm has done), only a boutique hotel can combine the qualities of differentiation, distinction, discernment and even daring in a truly unique and memorable way.
Stanley Tang has been engaged in the professional practice of architecture for more than 30 years. In that time, he has worked on a broad range of project types including corporate, health care, institutional, commercial, and residential. While this range is varied and diverse, he draws upon their underlying spatial, formal, and functional essence, and synergistically integrates those qualities into the creative development of each new project. Mr. Tang brings a well-thought-out approach to problem solving, acting as a crucial liaison between clients, consultants, construction managers, and contractors. Mr. Tang’s best-known projects include Virginia Tech Chiller, Septa City Hall Project, and Smeal College of Business at PSU. He earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degrees from The University of Pennsylvania. He was also awarded a Dales Architectural Traveling Fellowship. For more information about Stanley Tang, visit www.BLTa.com or www.aReturnOnDesign.com.
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