Architecture, Hospitality design, JT+Partners, Roundtable, Technology

Roundtable: Architects from Dubai’s JT+Partners discuss the impact of technology on hotel design in the GCC

At a recent roundtable held by JT+Partners, an award-winning architecture and design practice with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beirut, four architects from the firm came together to discuss the future of designing for hospitality in the GCC, and the impact technology has on it.

Those in attendance included Lama Harb, associate director; Abdelkader Saadi, design principal; Marta Galvez, senior architect and Gianluca Ciuffo, design architect.

Abdelkader Saadi, photo by Ajith Narendra, ITP Images

For the four architects, technology comes in first in spurring on the current transformation of hotel design, as it continues to affect modern society, while transportation and climate control are close second and third.

“The hotel hasn’t really changed much for the last 30 years,” said Ciuffo. “Sure, designs can vary, but the experience itself doesn’t really change from hotel to hotel. You have the reception to check in, surrounding lobby, social spaces and hotel rooms. Now, these traditional spaces are being rethought, and architects are using technology and sustainability to do so.”

“The millennial generation has a new approach to things,” added Harb. “And technology has had the biggest impact on the evolution of not only architecture, but modern lifestyles. Everyone is rushing and experiencing things at a rapid pace and as architects, it’s our responsibility to respond to this in order to satisfy those using the spaces we create. At the same time, we still need to cater to the needs of older generations who are more sensory-driven.”

According to Harb, architects are currently caught between providing for both demographics. While millennials prefer to constantly use technology for ease and convenience, older generations are still inclined towards real interactions with environments and people.

Photo by Ajith Narendra, ITP Images

“One way they differ is in the arrival experience,” she said. “The older generation feels more comfortable when they can interact with people to receive the required service. Younger generations favor the use of digital intelligence.”

Galvez added that due to the changing demands of end-users, certain traditional spaces of hotels are becoming obsolete – like the lobby and reception – and architects need to respond accordingly.

“Hotels are now implementing WiFi check-in, so when you arrive to a hotel, you automatically check in on your smart phone and you don’t need to go to the reception,” she said. “This might change everything, because we don’t need to design the lobby as we have been. It’s a totally different experience.

“What we should be focusing on is adapting hotel design to these new challenges. The Hyperloop Hotel is a good example, where your experience starts when you hop into a capsule that will transport you to the hotel. Hotels may become a new concept, like ‘capsule parking.”

Lama Harb, photo by Ajith Narendra, ITP Images

Other changes brought on by technology include using an app to do most things like opening the door of a hotel room rather than a card or ordering room service, while hotel operations will also start relying more on high-technology equipment rather than actual manpower.

“We’re working on a project on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, and the operator is interested in incorporating more technology into the design, like using an app. It’s a gradual shift – when they introduced cards to open doors, hotels were designed to allow for keys and cards to be used and guests could choose which system they wanted. Now, we’re thinking of designing systems that allow for doors to be opened by card and app,” said Harb.

Marta Galvez, photo by Ajith Narendra, ITP Images

“We have to push our limits and work hand in hand with clients to evolve,” added Galvez, who further noted the impact advancements in transportation will also have on hospitality. “In the future, we won’t only be designing new buildings, but also trying to adapt the built structures to the new urban development, and some structures like parking garages will become obsolete.”

According to Saadi, a proposal for a hotel in New York was recently put forth that would consist of multiple buildings connected by a sky bridge where flying taxis can land and park. And while he noted that technology as well as transportation are the largest catalysts of the changing forms of hospitality design, he said that architects and developers need to work on responding to local climate demands.

“Hotel typologies need to be adapted to the local climate,” he said. “What we have been seeing are typologies that you would see in Greece or other parts of the Mediterranean, where you have this fragmented resort that stretches out horizontally, but in the GCC, this doesn’t work. There are three or four months of the year, that you cannot use outdoor spaces because of the heat, so these resorts lose money.

“Rather, what we are looking into is creating a vertical-horizontal hybrid. You have similar examples coming out recently of vertical hotels that have outdoor spaces, like Marina Bay Sands in Singapore with it’s infinity pool at the top and the Atlantis Royal in Dubai.

Gianluca Ciuffo, photo by Ajith Narendra, ITP Images

It’s beneficial to the operator, because in a vertical tower, it doesn’t matter to the user what the climate is as the indoor temperature is controlled, but in a horizontal resort, you can only use the amenities for part of the year. In combining the two, you have something that would work year round.”

Saadi went on to suggest that another typology could be building below ground, and creating a courtyard surrounded by the programme components. It’s a lesson taken from ancestors who have already learned how to live comfortably in the region.

“It’s all related,” said Ciuffo. “As a designer, you need to consider all possible factors. Reaching the point that we are at today was only achieved by compiling all the data that architects have already learned. Our challenge is being the collector of information and creating the right combination of that data to inform our design and create a successful experience for the end-user and client.”

“What we know for sure is that hotels will be different in the future,” said Harb. “It has not yet been clearly defined as we have not yet fully envisioned it yet, but the city fabric will be different in the future and therefore, so will spaces we frequently use from the office to the home to the hotel.”