Hoteliers: You might want to try placemaking
Hoteliers: You might want to try placemaking
23 OCTOBER 2018 7:44 AM

In today’s hospitality design world, we are doing more and more placemaking—custom designing to meet the needs of both out-of-town guests and the local neighborhood.

In today’s hospitality design world, we are doing more and more placemaking to meet the needs of both out-of-town guests and locals.

Placemaking is defined as a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of spaces. This involves catering our hotel designs to the local community’s resources, potential and inspiration with the goal of creating spaces that promote well-being, health and happiness.

Nearly all recent and current Group One projects, whether independent hotels, soft-branded or fully branded hotels, have implemented some level of placemaking. This includes using specialized artwork to reflect the environment of the surrounding neighborhood, designing public spaces that embody the needs of guests and residents and creating guestrooms that serve the desires of business travelers and other visitors.

This is typically a win-win for all parties. So, how can modern-day hotels serve their guests, local residents and neighboring businesses? Let’s dive in…

Consider both guests and locals

  • Hotel type: it’s critical to evaluate the local environment and which type of hotel design will be welcomed and supported by the area residents and businesses. Can the local economy support a full-service, extended-stay hotel that offers guests the choice to shop, eat and play over a prolonged period of time? Or, is the local neighborhood instead better suited for a select- or limited-service hotel that relies more heavily on the surrounding businesses and services?

  • Restaurants and bars: full-service restaurants and bars are prime attractions for both guests and locals. In the design phase, it’s essential to mutually appeal to these groups. This can be achieved by creating warm and inviting entrance and public spaces that don’t require check in to a front desk upon entering. If locals feel uncomfortable visiting the restaurant and/or bar when not a guest, they are unlikely to give you their business. Also critical to consider is whether the restaurant is hotel-owned and -operated or if it makes more sense to rent the space to an independent restaurant operator. Either way, creating a public space that is warm, engaging and that celebrates the local cuisine and drink will go a long way with both guests and area residents.

  • Meeting spaces and banquet facilities: meeting spaces and banquet facilities are key to attracting local businesses and visitors alike. While using the facility to host out-of-towners for conferences, large meetings or events is paramount, it’s equally important to be able to rent out the space for local community events—especially during times of slower travel. All in all, today’s hotels must appeal to and reflect design choices that cater to multiple audiences to ensure profitability.

An ideal match for residents and visitors
Located in a mixed-use development for businesses, residences, recreation and education, the Hilton Garden Inn in Marlborough, Massachusetts, is a Group One project that offers guests a prime location close to corporations, sports venues and nearby highways. The property is situated in Forest Hills, a quiet lake and business park area. Once an underserved area for any hotel, dining or social option, the property takes advantage of a rapidly developing neighborhood to offer visitors and locals a destination to eat, drink, stay and play.

The new Hilton property has elements that appeal to both guests and locals, including an open lobby that invites all to the restaurant, a patio with fire pit and a lounge vibe, and private event space that can host more than 300 people.

Using design choices and details to tell a story
Aside from location and amenities, today’s guests and locals also want an experience. We know that people want to celebrate the environment in which they are staying or living. To achieve this, telling a story using design choices and details like artwork, finishes and offered amenities tees up the experiential setting. Important to revel in is the property’s environment, surroundings and the local history. What is the area known for? Who are the notable people who call this place home? What are the events that have taken place? By selecting one or two focus areas, we can weave this storyline into all parts of the hotel design.

The Residence Inn, a six-story, 150-room hotel in Watertown, Massachusetts, is an example of a Group One project where we used the area’s local culture to tell a story. Established in 1630, Watertown is where Boston meets Cambridge and is considered one of the fastest-growing towns in Massachusetts in 2014. Residence Inn was the first hotel to be built in the town in 50 years. Just outside the hotel doors, guests can take a stroll or kayak down the Charles River or explore the area on the miles of pathways biking through the Minuteman trails. Also notable in Watertown is its historic Arsenal, which has evolved through the years into a current site for shopping, dining and the arts. We used this area’s story as inspiration to create an authentic design while maintaining the standards expected from the brand.

For the design concept we wanted to introduce the Arsenal’s past and present by creating a modern atmosphere with hints of industrial woven throughout the interior architecture. For example, the bartop is made of blackened steel with rivet details and a particle board façade, while vibrant bicycle wheel pendants hang above. These elements paired with a fresh and bright color palette inspired from the Charles and greenways creates an inviting yet original experience for the guests.

To round out the hotel design, local flavoring is brought in through the artwork. One such piece is from The Arsenal Center for the Arts and its first annual Steam Roller Printing event in May 2015. A collaborative effort between area artists and the Watertown DPW, printmakers had the unique opportunity to create extra-large printing plates and use the steam roller as their press. Inspired by the nearby Charles River, 26 artists illustrated and carved alphabet letters onto 10-inch square linoleum plates.

By using placemaking to plan, design and manage today’s properties, we can cater designs to amplify the local community’s culture, history and potential. And at the same time, we can meet the needs and desires of guests, locals and neighboring businesses. It’s never been more important to create properties that are experiential and celebrate the hotel’s place in the world. It’s a tall order, but an exciting time for today’s hotel designers and our industry as a whole.

Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit or email Wheeler at

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