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How will hotels change after the coronavirus?

  • May 13, 2020

Once again, it’s time to learn from the modernist masters about light, air and openness.

In some ways, hotels could see a real renaissance if and when people start traveling again; the consensus around the virtual water cooler is that Airbnb is not going to be nearly as attractive as it was; Melissa notes that hotels will have sanitation protocols in place, regulations to follow, and accountability to consider. But they will be different in other ways; Sarah Crow of Bestlife lists 8 Things You May Never See in Hotel Rooms Ever Again. This includes minibars (too many touchpoints) and coffee makers (disgusting even before the coronavirus) and almost everything else that you touch, from key cards to remote controls.

Automation will be the name of the game in the not-too-distant future, meaning you may never have to manually flush a toilet—or even turn on a light—in a hotel room again. “Gesture controlled flushing, sensor-driven taps [and] lighting will become the new standard industry-wide,” says travel expert Deb Pati.

Two of the ideas I am not so sure of are the elimination of desks because they were seriously contaminated in one study, and whether micro-hotels are over.

In order to keep hotel rooms clean and sanitary going forward, the average room’s footprint is about to get a whole lot bigger. “Health and wellness goals will accelerate the demise of rooms that are too small to vacuum between the bed and the wall, and a certain level of hygiene theater will be necessary to reassure guests that their accommodations are sanitized,” explains Angie Lee, partner and design director of interiors at architecture firm FXCollaborative.

Desk I wrote this post at this desk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I am not convinced of either of those points; for many who travel on business, the desk is as important as the bed, especially after the coronavirus (no more working in the lobby). It doesn’t have to be much, and there is no reason it cannot be wiped down. I am not sure the room has to be much bigger, either. It just has to be different.

Zonnestraal Zonnestraal, the model of a healthy building/Public Domain

A few years ago we had a series of posts about how antibiotic resistance will change the way we live, which in many ways anticipated the coronavirus pandemic. It described the roots of modernism:

It is clear that the source of our obsessions with hospital-like bathrooms and spotless kitchens, as well as the continuing interest in minimalist interior design, descends directly from the modernist obsessions with hygienic design that formed in the years before antibiotics.

Paimo from the outsideLeon on Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Much of modern design was influenced by the sanitariums built for tuberculosis patients. Paul Overy described in his book Light, Air and Openness how these ideas came into our homes:

Sanatoriums exerted a powerful hold on the imagination of modern architects and designers as building types and institutional models. Among the first to be designed in “modern” or “modernist” style, purpose-built sanatoriums for tuberculosis and other chronic diseases were some of the most technologically advanced buildings of the first decades of the 20th century. Combining associations of health, hygiene cleanliness (and easy-to-cleanness) modernity and machine-like precision of operation, they were to have a major influence on modernist architecture and furniture design between the wars. The austere white rooms for the patients of sanatoriums were designed not only to be easy to clean but to appear to be spotlessly clean- potent visual symbols of hygiene and health.”

Paimo RoomLeon on Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The hotel after the coronavirus may well feel more like Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanatorium, built between 1929 and 1932. The rooms weren’t big, but there wasn’t much in them. All of the furniture was designed to be easy to clean, usually made out of tubular steel. Those beds don’t look as comfortable as the ones you find in a modern hotel, but could be wiped down in seconds.

Paimo ChairPaimo Chair/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

All of the furniture was designed with the same idea; nothing was upholstered and the plywood could be cleaned easily.

Paimo lobbyLeon on Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Its lobby isn’t exactly the Fountainbleu in Miami, but it is clean, bright, and easily washable.

Room in the UniteMy room in the Unite d’habitation Marseille/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Le Corbusier also designed a really nice little hotel room in the Unite d’habitation in Marseille; there are a sink and a shower behind the partition. It is also totally minimal, yet comfortable, with a workable desk.

Hotel room Citizen MMy room in the Citizen M/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The Citizen M probably comes closest to the hotel room of the future, outside of the impossible, immovable bed that fills the whole end of the room. Almost everything is controlled by an app; there are light switches but they are actually superfluous. All the surfaces are washable. The shower and toilet behind the glass door could probably be hosed down. Stick a big ultraviolet light in the middle of the room that runs when guests are out of the suite and it could be continuously disinfected. (More on this in an upcoming post.) And, there is no coffee machine or minibar.

Paimo sanitarium room/ WikipediaPaimo sanitarium room/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

A room at the Paimo Hotel might be a bit spartan compared to the Citizen M, but they both have the sink in the room, a place to work, are not too big, and are easy to clean. I suspect the hotel room of the future will have a bit of both.

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