The pandemic changed our lives. How has it influenced the way we build and design hotels? Ar. Rahul Kadri explains.

The hospitality industry has long been synonymous with luxury. And architecture and design are one of the most important tools for fostering a sense of luxury. It is no longer just about aesthetics, ornamentation or rich materials and products. It’s about the quality of the space – about the use of light and air and views; about bringing meaningful narratives to life through objects and textures, materials and craftsmanship. It’s about creating holistic experiences in which people can engage, rejuvenate and grow. The challenge often lies in reinterpreting and pushing the boundaries of conventional design to create spaces that have something new to offer.

At IMK Architects, our approach to hospitality design is driven by the need to design human-centered spaces that respond to society and culture and integrate nature. We strive to create a mix of personal and collective experiences that are consistent with a destination’s goal of being unique and memorable. The designs are based on local handicraft and construction techniques, employing local skills and easy-care, sustainable local materials from local suppliers to preserve the local culture and identity of the region – to create spaces in which people thrive. For example, our design for the Club Mahindra Madikeri Resort in Coorg takes its inspiration from the local Kodava culture to incorporate traditional wood construction systems that have been exposed. This contextual response, which incorporates structural elements as part of the interiors, helped us create a suitable architectural language for the resort.

Our work also draws on the theory of biophilia, which aims to connect buildings and residents more closely with nature. Maximizing daylight, natural ventilation, looking outside, and incorporating green courtyards and bodies of water can create a more therapeutic built environment for rejuvenation. In Coorg, the resort is located in the middle of a crescent-shaped ridge with a deep valley in the middle. The 31 hectare site resembles a forest and we designed it so that guests would actually experience being in this forest. We decided not to build on the ridge, but 5 meters below, so that the hill looks undisturbed from the main road and the guests have the feeling of being part of the coffee plantation and not floating over it.

Oberoi Bangalore 1992 reproduction

Completed in 1992, The Oberoi Bangalore is one of our most significant early projects based on Bangalore’s rendezvous with nature. Built amid the city’s existing flora, the property’s 176 rooms face inward and face the central garden to encourage rejuvenation and a sense of solitude. Rows of stepped round balconies span the facade, which is dotted with potted plants and flower beds. This breaks up the building mass and extends the garden above the floor area to the upper floors. Our current work on expanding the Club Mahindra Kandaghat Resort near Shimla to 128 new rooms is based on similar ideas. Our goal is to incorporate Shimla’s old world charm into the resort’s architectural language by incorporating dormer windows and warm interior colors that blend with the palette of the local terrain and nature.

In the face of the pandemic, trends in the hospitality industry have completely reversed. Maintaining hygiene and sanitation is of the utmost importance these days. Buildings must contain the spread of cross-infection and disease transmission by controlling air quality, maximizing natural ventilation, and minimizing contact. This encourages hotels to rethink their choice of finishes and materials and use efficient air conditioning systems with HEPA filters. Also, the need for social distancing calls for a revision of spatial requirements, such as organizing restaurants to have more outdoor seating and ensuring that multipurpose public spaces such as lounges, lobbies, and other common areas grow larger to allow for adaptability and flexibility .

In the future, technology and artificial intelligence will have a significant impact on almost all areas of the hospitality industry – from contactless billing to eating, check-in and check-out to room lighting, air conditioning, controllable doors and windows through applications on smartphones. Such innovations in automation and user-centered design will enable more effective control and encourage the hospitality industry to look at the future of design through the lens of general wellbeing. There is a renewed focus on the inclusion of green spaces, outdoor areas and fitness facilities, as well as providing environments that focus on enhancing human comfort, rejuvenation and sleep quality, etc. The focus should always be on the human-centered design – design that puts the physiological and emotional health of the people who deal with it in the foreground.

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