Rethinking luxury hotel design to connect guests to nature


Skift take

It seems like every hotel brand these days is eager to jump on the wellness train. Most do this by adding a gym or throwing a yoga mat around the room. But some luxury hotels take a more esoteric approach, especially through biophilic design.

Laura Powell, Skift

As luxury hotels strive to incorporate wellness into their offerings, it would be wise to adhere to the principles of biophilic design.

Any student of etymology should be able to easily define the word “biophilia”. It comes from the Greek words for life and love. As defined in English, biophilia suggests man’s innate biological connection with nature. This is why a walk in the woods is soothing and why the light is uplifting. Basically, that’s why nature makes us feel better.

But how to apply the principles of biophilia to interior spaces, separated from nature? This is where biophilic design comes in.

Much of today’s built environment lacks natural light, organic materials and other nods to nature. Yes, the presence of plants can be therapeutic, but true biophilic environments are not achieved through additional features, such as a plant in every room. Instead, biophilic design means incorporating nature into all aspects of the design.

It is the use of natural materials wherever possible. It incorporates the sinuous patterns (or fractals) found in nature in the design of rugs and furniture. It’s imagining how people move in space. It is creating areas of refuge, where clients can feel protected. In all, there are at least 14 key elements of biophilic design. These are described in a brief bible of biophilic design produced by Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental consulting firm.

“Biophilic design can be very powerful in the hospitality industry,” says Lorraine Francis, design director for Collaboration Cadiz. She said it could be “a cost effective way to improve the customer experience while improving well-being and health.” The principles (using biophilia) not only allow us to create a more engaging design experience, but also trigger a deeper affinity with certain brands.

According to Bill Browning, founding partner of Bright Green Terrapin, there is room in the market for a hotel brand to have a biophilic design. “Hospitality is one of the few places where designers tend to pay attention to the five senses. And since the experiences are more intense when several senses are called upon simultaneously, ”this bodes well for the brand’s differentiation. Browning painted the picture: “The feel of textiles; the scents of flowers, candles and food; crackling of logs in a fireplace; splashing water in a fountain; the texture of wood grain and stone in the furnishings; and birds singing in a hall are ways to create more memorable spaces.

The key to biophilic design, however, is not to overdo it. Browning said the idea of ​​focusing on one or two elements is the way to go: “Hoteliers should decide what they want guests to experience in the space, and then provide a complementary biophilic design. But they shouldn’t go crazy. Otherwise, the cacophony of features could prove overwhelming.

Westin looks towards nature

Westin’s fame within the Marriott batch of brands is wellness. While the brand came from Starwood with a few biophilic elements built in, the design was neither cohesive nor ubiquitous, either in an individual hotel or across the brand. That’s why David Kepron, vice president of Marriott’s global design strategy group, thought the brand was ripe for a biophilic design overhaul.

A Westin model room shows the use of light in biophilic design, with fixtures casting shadows and shapes found in nature. Photo: Westin Hotels and Resorts

“Due to a better understanding of neurophysiology, of the mind-body connection to the experience of space,” Kepron said, “the design team is working on better ways to create” handshakes cognitive “throughout Westin – by designing rooms and public spaces that meet an individual’s neurobiological needs.

While biophilic design is viewed holistically, the main element Westin focuses on is light. Kepron illuminated: “Westin plans to own the light. We see it in three ways. There is the aesthetic quality. The fixtures and the quality of the light emanating from them must be beautiful. We will use lighting that casts shadows or allows diffused light (an example would be a frosted glass wall between the bathroom and the bedroom, allowing natural light to filter through). Finally, we want the light to respond to human biorhythms, ”which can ultimately help customers use lighting as a tool for better sleep.

Westin will also add more natural elements to its rooms. Instead of art framed in pastoral frames, Westin adds three-dimensional sculptural elements made from organic materials or depicting natural themes. A major feature of each room will be the wall behind the headboard, which will incorporate natural colors and materials reflecting the location.

Lush living walls mean green – in more ways than one

An Orbitz millennial study found that nearly a quarter would pay $ 50 to $ 100 more for a room full of plants. Along these lines, the biophilic design can incorporate living walls. The Thompson Chicago, for example, sports a two-story foliage wall behind its lobby bar. In Singapore, taxi drivers call the PARKROYAL on Pickering the “jungle hotel”. This is because it is designed as a high rise garden, with plants cascading from the exterior and interior walls.

The Thompson Chicago Green Wall behind the Nico Bar. Photo: Thompson Chicago

What is the point of integrating Mother Nature into the design of hotels? Customers will likely feel better while hotels earn more money. Terrapin, Interface and Gensler collaborated on a study to observe price trends for hotel rooms with and without a view in hotels. The study found that rooms with views of nature, especially the water, are consistently more expensive than rooms without. For resort hotels there was an 18% difference while a natural view from a town hall could be charged up to 12% more.

But for Kepron, biophilic conception isn’t just about money. “The margin is in the mood,” he said. “There is something to be said for considering the return on investment of magic and memory.”


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