The hotel industry is reinventing itself with accommodations in art galleries, suspended cabins and disaster-proof buildings.
The question for hospitality designers used to be, “What’s design?” Now, the first line of inquiry is more like, “What’s a hotel?” Owners, investors, developers and brands are taking their projects out of the traditional box and finding fresh ways to make concepts work within their physical and cultural environments.
Today, mixed use can mean accommodations scattered throughout art hot spots in a Tokyo vintage shopping district. An upscale resort can be a cabin suspended at the top of a Swedish forest. And inspiration can reshape architecture that needs to address anything from storms to seismic shifts in an Italian earthquake zone. Follow three trailblazers who are breaking new ground.
BnA Hotel Koenji
Check in at the bar? Why not? Check out some local artwork along with the receipt? Why not?
The brainchild of Tokyo-based based Keigo Fukugaki, founder and ceo of multidisciplinary design firm Makeshift Inc., the hotel (currently encompassing a tiny renovated building that now houses a bar for locals, a basement art gallery and a terrace along with the property’s two art hotel rooms) serves as a platform for local artists to both express themselves and make a living. The artists selected by Fukugaki and his team of business partners, Yu Tazawa and Yuto Maeda, and art director Kenji Daikoku, not only design the rooms but receive a share of the hotel’s profits. Fukugaki also wanted to move beyond the idea of a hotel as a self-contained structure.
“The concept for BnA Koenji is to build a hotel where the guest rooms are dispersed around the town,” says Fukugaki. “The streets become our hallway, the local shops become our gift shop and the cafe down the road becomes
Scattering rooms throughout the neighborhood (future plans include 35-40 rooms across Koenji) means that each one has to be its own microcosm. To do that, Fukugaki and his team turned the creative reins over to the artists themselves, letting them come up with their own concepts and then offering the technical support to realize their vision as a fully functional hotel space.
“We work with our artists from the ground up, everything from materials, lighting locations, to even the shape of the room,” says Fukugaki.
How’s that for a fresh meaning to the idea of art “work?”
The 7th Room Treehotel
From its “roots” in 12 columns bored into the Lapland forest floor to the soaring cabin perched on top, opposites don’t just attract—they interact. That's what turns international architecture and design firm Snøhetta's vision into a multilayered space that’s as unexpected in its treehouse setting as the hotel’s original concept itself.
The contrast starts with the Snøhetta team's decision to suspend the suite not from actual trees, but on the manmade columns. But the team wanted to create an instant connection to the natural world. So, a photo of the forest before the cabin’s construction is printed on aluminum plates that make up the bottom of the structure. A pine tree serves as one anchor point for a netted terrace.
A slick take on midcentury modern gives the interior a single distinct personality, but a slight variance in the floor height keeps up the dichotomous vibe. “It creates a dynamic leveling by using imbedded furniture with seating in the lounge, as well as space for beds. This also reduces the amount of loose furniture, which makes for more efficient layout,” says Jenny Osuldsen, partner/director, Snøhetta. “We made sure all steps are highly visible to reduce tripping hazards.”
Those dual levels also called for a very specific lighting program that was still practical, given that all mechanicals had to be fitted into one support column. The answer? Three prototype fixtures, one suspended lamp and two bed lamps, designed in collaboration with a lighting manufacturer that also crafted the illumination for the six other treehouses on the site.
Natural ingredients? Yes, as in natural woods and fur accents, but with a hefty side of human hand-driven cool. Designers’ childhood treehouse fantasies are growing up, moving beyond eco-chic to residential sophistication.
Dynamic Seismic Hotel
It’s time to explode notions about what functional architecture and design can be.
For Margot Krasojevic´’s Dynamic Seismic Hotel in Naples (commissioned but not yet built) that pyrotechnic moment is literal, at least if push comes to tectonic shove. The hotel is built as three parts around a central core that’s meant to separate in case of a 5.0-plus-magnitude earthquake, which the region frequently experiences.
There’s a lot more left-brain thinking than creative carte blanche in the design for projects like this. “The nature of this type of architecture dictates a slightly different relationship to interior design as the function of the building necessitates a more rigid and less playful approach,” says Krasojevic´, founder, Margot Krasojevic´ Architecture. “The interiors are rather sparse by comparison to other hotels. Beds, closets, shower trays and tables are locked into each element’s structure, and inspiration was taken from the FLIP boats (a type of research vessel) built in the 1960s—even though they rotated by 90 degrees.”
Gas and water are located in the central core of the complex. Each piece of the building contains its own electrical system, which is designed to shut off when the earth starts shaking. Windows are designed to fall into water trays outside the hotel to avoid hitting anyone. The lightweight frame and cladding minimize damage when the building does move.
All these technical details don’t preclude high-drama design. “The visuals try to isolate the building within the landscape, as I wanted to focus on the tremor in relation to the design,” says Krasojevic´. “That’s why I gave the renderings contrast with light and darkness. To me, these images needed to show the before-and-after effects of severe weather, as well as explore the use of light and general feeling of isolation after a disorientating experience like an earthquake.”
Realizing that vision means thinking outside the box when it comes to the team, as well. Krasojevic´ turned to shipbuilders to help her on this project, along with seismic, hydrokinetic and hydraulic engineers.
Move over, evolutionary change. The design revolution is here—and its credo calls for designers to overhaul the way hospitality fits into culture—more room with a viewpoint than room with a view.