HB EXCLUSIVE: Grounded by Design panel talks healthcare and hospitality

NEW YORK—During the second virtual panel from Grounded by Design, thought leaders discussed how hospitality design continues to emerge, and how now, more than ever, it is taking cues from healthcare. Hosted by NEXT Events in partnership with Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, Hotel Business and InspireDesign—and sponsored by ActiveGuard, Minibar Systems and ecore—“The Clean Revolution: Finding the New Normal in Commercial Design” brought together panelists who covered building design practices, materials and products that lend themselves to wellness.

Adam Glickman, principal, Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, asked the panelists their thoughts on the crossover between healthcare and hospitality.

“Healthcare designers are well versed in designing interior environments that can protect our health by reducing pathogen transmission—and that relates to all markets,” said Suzie Hall, president, Cornerstone Design. “Signage throughout hospitals and the care that the healthcare environment takes in providing that wayfinding for visitors and staff is so critical… I really see an opportunity with signage for that to become a welcoming, motivating piece of the design package and have it integrated with the aesthetics and decor.”

Other solutions can be more obvious—for example, using materials readily available to designers: nature, landscape and pure air.

“The horrors of COVID-19 taught us that natural air and being outdoors help us,” said Amy Sickeler, principal, Perkins & Will. “The silver lining of this terrible thing is nature and outdoors. Hospitality has always had terraces, but it’s more than just having a cocktail or having dinner; it can also be meeting areas.”

David Ashen, founder, dash design, noted the importance of utilizing these natural spaces and also reproducing things naturally found in the environment to increase guest comfort. “It’s about how you start to modulate airflow inside of a built building so you get the sense that there’s fresh air movement. How you modulate lighting during the day? How do you think about experiences like scent?” Ashen asked.

Steve Upchurch, managing director, hospitality practice leader, Gensler, noted that it may be wise to look to these natural areas as possible income generators for clients as more people gravitate to open spaces.

“Natural settings can actually become rentable spaces,” Upchurch said. “We’ve been strategically looking at natural landscaping and how it can be the differentiating reason why people would choose to live, work, play, learn or heal in a specific public space that’s outside.”

Tech integration is also important as guests and employees not only look for more wellness-inspired areas but to see that hotels are taking the necessary steps to ensure their safety.

“The biggest problem is in small spaces like elevators and how to recirculate air and add UV filters that clean air quickly,” Ashen said. “The issue isn’t just who’s in the elevator with you but who was in the elevator two minutes ago. Those are things you may not always think about. UV light is tricky because it takes a while and it also destroys fabrics… We’re trying to dig in and find the products that actually kill the virus.”

Ashen said that he’s looking into these virus-killing materials that naturally oxidize, like copper linoleum, which blows up anything on the surface and doesn’t take a lot of time to work. However, he warned that designers should proceed with caution.

“You can’t just put a copper doorknob and expect that everything will be killed right away,” Ashen said. “There’s a lot to be learned from the work we’ve been doing in healthcare and senior living that could be applied to hospitality in terms of materials that are antimicrobial… We need to look across industries for best practices and learn, especially in hospitality, from healthcare. I think we have to be careful about how we take the information and know that just because a fabric has copper woven through, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be safe immediately.”

Hall said that it’s important to understand product characteristics and how they contribute to cleanability and permeability.

“It’s not a one size fits all; it’s understanding what the design challenges and potential solutions are and then working through those filters as best we can,” Hall said.

As hospitality has always done, it will continue to innovate and meet guest expectations, which may resemble other industries. “The majority of the cleaning products that we were using pre-COVID were hospital grade; we’ve already kind of been through this with SARS—it just wasn’t as large of an event,” said Justin Jabara, president, Meyer Jabara Hotels. “Every day, there’s a new product out there. The reality is our whole business model has changed. The rooms were already being cleaned but now we’re taking it to the next level. The more efficient that we can build a room so that they can clean better and more quickly is integral.”

Jabara noted that while cleaning products are taking center stage for back-of-house employees, guests are looking for touch-free options.

“How do we rethink the guest journey and then build new touchpoints while we’ve stripped all the collateral out of the room, we’ve pulled the coffeemakers out of the rooms for now and everything else?” Jabara asked. “We have some challenges ahead, but through technology, we’re pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box.” HB

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