Balancing security, aesthetics in hotel design
23 FEBRUARY 2016 8:09 AM
Hotel architects and designers try to weigh the needs for a secure property without turning the building into an unsightly and unwelcoming fortress.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Part of making guests feel comfortable is maintaining their sense of security, and hotel designers must walk the thin line of creating a safe environment without sacrificing the property’s visual appeal.
Balance is important and probably the toughest question, said Nunzio DeSantis, EVP and director of the hospitality group at architecture firm HKS.
“You can make any facility secure,” he said. “How’s it going to feel? What’s it going to look like, and how are you going to respond to your business? In the hotel business, security wants to be quiet, effective, substantial, consistent but unseen. That’s a difficult task.”
In the design world, there’s form and function, said Doug Smith, president of EDSA, a full-service planning, landscape architecture and urban design firm. In terms of security, the functional aspect is making sure the physical design addresses the safety issues and concerns and operational issues, he said. The form aspect is the beauty of the solution and design. Marrying those two together is how to achieve both.
“You really have to achieve both,” he said. “You can have beautiful design, but if doesn’t function well from security perspective or other perspectives, you’ve only done half your job.”
Taking advantage of space
A hotel should be welcoming and engaging and feel light, fresh and secure, DeSantis said. Adding security measures often runs contrary to those goals, he said, particularly heavy security. There are many places around the world where police and guard dogs meet guests at hotels and even cautiously inspect cars for bombs. In some countries, the guests are frisked by machine-gun-wielding guards and forced to walk through metal detectors.
“All of those levels of security really take away from that particular sense of gracious arrival and welcoming we once used to have,” he said.
Distance is important, DeSantis said. When the space is available, having guests stop their car away from the front door can serve the same purpose while making them feel more relaxed and comfortable, he said. The car can drop guests off at a beautiful forecourt where staff can carry their bags for them and, if necessary, discreetly check the bags if there are any concerns. The guests could then walk through a series of gates with hidden metal detectors and through some gardens.
Distance creates a great security buffer, said Scott Lee, president and principal at SB Architects. At a property his firm designed in Puerto Rico, guests enter the property from the highway and come into a beautiful security area. There’s a four-minute drive from the security kiosk to where the guests exit the car, Lee said, which gives security time to radio ahead to the front desk bellman if any problems arise. While preventing nefarious access, this security feature also encourages enhanced hospitality for the bellman to personally welcome the guests.
Once the guests get out of their cars, they are still not at the building’s entrance, Lee said. There’s a procession across a lily pond followed by stairs.
“It’s setting up the moment, choreographing the moment, and also setting up that security buffer,” he said.
Designing secure outdoor spaces
Smith said his firm spends a great deal of their time on hardscapes, landscapes and the material selection for both. There’s a practice in the design industry called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design that employs arrangement of plants and hardscape design for security purposes, he said.
According to Smith, there should be open visual access in the more public settings to prevent dangerous individuals from trying to hide on hotel property. Clearly marked pathways with unobstructed sightlines can keep guests from getting lost and guide movement, he said. Landscape designers also can take advantage of topography and grade differentials to create private/semiprivate areas that differentiate them from public areas.
Most of the hotels his company designs include steps leading up to the property, DeSantis said, which serves as a hindrance to cars and vans trying to drive into the building. Designers also may use bollards—or short vertical posts.
Desantis said designs can incorporate bollards that appear to part of the larger design that don’t appear like bollards because they are beautiful and nicely articulated to look like part of the building.
In some cases, there is a deep and solid entry wall, the base of which can serve as a buttress. Water can be added to improve the wall’s aesthetics.
“It sets the tone beyond that point that everyone is safe,” he said.
Securing the interior
The lobby is the most vulnerable space in a hotel, DeSantis said. Anyone can access it, and there are a lot of people in the hotel above it, he said.
“We think about the lobby space where the hotel is often off to the side, not sitting abruptly above it,” he said. “If a bomb goes off (in a vertically designed hotel), you have floors and floors above it that amplifies issues of the structure collapsing.”
Not every hotel has the space to spread out horizontally, especially in urban locations, but there are still options available for interior security. Many hotels in major cities are part of a mixed use project, Lee said, in which there are residential and other commercial activities going on in the same building as the hotel. In such properties, there are more nonguests who may wander into and through the hotel itself, he said.
Restricting the access for retail employees to one entry point and another only for hotel employees means no cross pollination between the two groups, Lee said..
People seem to be more comfortable with security cameras in public spaces, said Kathryn Mickel, principal at architectural and interior design firm BBGM. They help security monitor where people are and can signal if something appears unusual.
“There may be an alarm if someone is in an area where they shouldn’t be or wandering around or lost,” she said.
Elevators can require keycard access, Mickel said. Without a keycard, those elevators won’t leave the lobby level, which helps protect guests in their rooms. Some card systems even restrict which level the cardholder can access, and hotel employees would have separately coded cards.
“You can see who had keycard access,” she said.
Many hotels in urban areas are elevated off the street, Lee said, with another type of business or a parking garage taking up the first floor. That can require people to take an elevator that doesn’t travel any higher than the lobby, he said.
“That forces people out at the lobby into the view of the front desk,” Lee said. “They would then go to an elevator that is secure to the guestrooms. You can’t go from the street or public parking directly into the hotel tower. They’re forced to get out, walk across a highly visible area by people who are trained to visually monitor.”