The Benefit of a Specialist Architect
Developing a new resort – or even a single component within it, such as a hotel – requires vision, determination and a budget that matches the aspiration. The challenges are considerable, particularly now given Europe’s difficult financial climate, and many projects, even when initial funding as been obtained, fail to get beyond the drawing board.
Clearly, specialist hotel and resort architects cannot solve all the world’s troubles but they do bring knowledge, instinct and a creativity born out of many years’ experience. Most importantly, extensive relevant experience means they are also able to identify potential for asset improvement in a building or site of which the client may not be aware. Not surprising then that the name of a specialist architect on the drawings brings credibility to the project and reassures potential investors.
Quite often, clients come to us without a complete brief. They have a general idea of what they want to achieve but expect ReardonSmith to define the design solution. This is absolutely fine with us; indeed, we relish such opportunities. I well remember the first exciting weeks of our work on Porto Montenegro, visiting the historic and delightful towns in the region and combining the ideas these gave us with the teachings of a 20th Century American urban planner to create a masterplan concept that was entirely new but based on sound and tested principles. It was relevant to, and respectful of, the location and it held the promise of fulfilling the client’s intention of creating not only a glamorous new marina destination but a vibrant town for residents and visitors alike.
It is vital that the fundamentals of a resort masterplan are correct from the outset and that such key issues as sustainability, local planning regulations and appropriate procurement are fully incorporated into the scheme. If they are not, unrealistic designs or missed opportunities become fixed in the plan and are difficult to remove later on. Not only are the chances of achieving a successful masterplan considerably increased if the architects specialise in resort design, but they are also greatly increased if all the members of the professional team - architects of the built environment, landscape architects, engineers, surveyors and interior designers – are brought together at as early a stage in the concept creation as possible. This will help prevent costly mistakes emerging later, will avoid disappointment and is very likely to ultimately save the client money. All too often, we have inherited projects on which the developer has been refused planning permission to build or when a hotel operator realises it has signed up for a hotel that cannot be operated successfully.
Hotels, especially large, premium end hotels, are complex buildings to design. There is the all-important spatial relationship between front-of-house and back-of-house areas. How will the fine dining restaurant be served from the central kitchens six floors below? Where will luggage be stored once guests have checked out but are still in the hotel? How should housekeeping goods be moved through the hotel? Then there is the equally important issue of maximising revenue generation through careful space planning. Can the plant in the basement be relocated to the roof, freeing up an area for additional meeting rooms? Where should the main bar be located to encourage guests into its space? How many guestrooms can be planned into a floor while meeting internationally recognised operational standards? In addition, there is the matter of managing many, potentially conflicting, groups of people. Hotel guests, for example, should not clash with conference delegates, so their circulation and servicing routes should not intersect.
There is one more key ingredient that hospitality architects should deeply respect: the soul of the place. This issue is at the heart of our work when we restore the grand old hotels of the world. The Savoy in London, where our five-year programme is now nearing completion, is one such example. The legendary status of The Savoy and the sheer passion that many people feel for the hotel mean that not merely preserving but enhancing its unique spirit is the objective of all the design team. However, new hotels and resorts need a soul as well and, again, architects experienced in creating hospitality destinations are best placed to work with the client in developing a unique story, reflected in the design, that captures peoples’ imaginations and entices them to return.
At ReardonSmith, we currently manage all our projects from our London office, regularly visiting sites and working collaboratively with local architects to handle technical development and regulatory matters as well as the construction phase. Typically, in our overseas work, we hand the project over to the local architect once we have completed the detailed design phase but we continue to have a monitoring role, checking all the drawing packages and reviewing work on site to ensure that quality levels and design intent are realised. It is particularly important with overseas projects to ensure that the scope of work is absolutely transparent and understood by the client from the beginning. This can be difficult due to cultural and language differences but it is up to the architect to achieve clarity in the “who does what and when” debate. Effective communications are essential between all members of an international team and with the client who, understandably, requires the reassurance of clear, reliable and regular progress reports.
I accept, of course, that there are owners and developers who feel that they will only achieve originality and media headlines for their project if they employ design teams from outside the sector who will offer ideas that are not constrained by the way in which hotels and resorts have been designed in the past. In my experience, however, the truly inspired ideas emerge from specialist knowledge and the confidence gained by having “done it” many times before. This means that the architect is better placed to introduce the new without sacrificing the quality of hospitality or the long term success of the development.