ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION
While there has always been a niche for high-service, highstyle hotels, it is only in the past 10 years that the experience has opened up to the mass market. As testament to this, you only have to look on the shelves of your local bookshops to see rows of guides to 'Hip Hotels' filled with sumptuous photography.
There is nothing new about architecture delivering a total design experience down to the last detail - think Hill House by Mackintosh, or the Hollyhock House by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the 1960s, Gio Ponti designed the Parco de Principi hotel in Sorrento as the last word in hotel chic.
While one-offs fell from favour in the corporate 1970s and '80s - when a global signature was in favour, with Hilton and Sheraton providing the same room in Houston as in Hong Kong - today's market is more discerning.
The trend is for hotels to define themselves in terms of an absolute style, a narrative or a theme. The most recent example is the Puerta America Hotel in Madrid, where a fairly banal slab block has been fitted out by a hegemony of 'starchitects' - Zaha Hadid, John Pawson and Marc Newson among them.
ALL IN THE DETAIL The signing off of the sample room is the single most important decision during the hotel design process. A mock-up of the standard unit - comprising a bedroom and bathroom - could be 'rolled out' hundreds of times. If you can get this one right then the rest will follow. Even in the days of mass production and factory-made elements there are still very few examples of complete pod hotels. Generally, the reality is more complex, especially in old buildings or re-fits. Therefore, this blueprint exists as a benchmark of quality and intent and is also used to solve technical difficulties. Even though there are thousands of hotels (and in most cases there is a fairly predictable relationship between the bedroom and bathroom), each new one is a prototype and can generate new problems.
Before you even get into the room there are issues concerning ironmongery, security, lighting and wear and tear. Is there a vulnerable plaster corner which can be chipped off by the cleaning trolley? One solution is to install corner protectors or wall-mounted rails or, in the case of the Royalton Hotel in New York, to make the corridors so dark you just can't see anything. Once inside the room there is the question of navigation - where are the controls located? The interface between the guest and the hotel itself is becoming increasingly sophisticated. An intelligent building control system will know when a guest is due to check in and will, in turn, adjust the temperature. It will be able to switch off the lights after the guest leaves the room and then 'remember' the configuration when the guest returns. One very good reason to install such a system is to save energy.
ROOMS The hotel bedroom is a place for working, eating and sleeping. For some it is a place to relax while for others it is a place to party. All of this suggests that there is a major difference in the performance of a hotel bedroom from a domestic space. This has to do with the extra layer of 'gadgets', from flat screen televisions to mini bars, from electric curtains to wi-fi connectivity.
COMPONENTS The bathroom is inevitably a collection of components.
A key factor to the longevity of the installation is accessibility to key connections, such as valves taps, drains to baths and WC cisterns. Ideally, much of this should be done from the corridor via a riser duct, so that the guest does not have to be disturbed or the room not let.
The conceit of most hotels is that you are walking into a 'new room'. Even though you know that the room has probably been occupied by hundreds of people before you, it should feel fresh and pristine.
This puts pressure on the daily maintenance and cleaning regime of the hotel and means these quasi-domestic spaces take much more abuse.
Once a hotel has opened it will not close until the day it needs a total head-to-toe refurbishment. Therefore the performance of the surfaces and materials that are touched every day is critical and can lead to a tension between operator and architect;
practicality versus design statement. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that the roll-out chains of Holiday Inn Express and Travelodge favour easyclean coloured tiles, allfluorescent lighting, nylon carpets and free-standing IKEA-style furniture.
The results may be good value for money but are often a long way off the 'design' hotel specification. That is not to say that as the price tag goes up there is more room for indulgence. In the luxury sector everything has to work and look perfect. Electricians must check that lighting circuits are in order and plumbers must maintain bathrooms and ensure the plant is serviced.
SUSTAINABILITY While there has been much speculation on smart technology, capsule rooms and crafted science, my money is actually on sustainability being at the forefront of design in the next 10 years.
Hotels need to refine the way in which they can offer services without sticking notices above the towel rail reminding people that by leaving their damp towel they are saving the planet. The buildingmanagement system is critical to the control of power for heating and lighting which can be switched off when rooms are not occupied.
The whole heating system can use heat exchangers to maximise efficiency. The biggest challenge of all is to find ways of eliminating mechanical air conditioning. While opening a window is a simple option, in an urban environment there are noise and pollution to deal with, as well as heat gain.
Finally, the tag 'eco friendly' has to give way to another description that can suggest excellent design credentials as well as responsible building practice.