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Hotel design - where form and function matter equally

“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” - Charles Eames


A well designed hotel lobby can create an atmosphere that instantly affects the guests’ first impression from the moment they arrive, but if the relationship between the function and the design is not in harmony…that first impression, however stunning be it, will soon turn sour.


As extravagant as any hotel interior design can be, one should be mindful that the aesthetic should never outweigh the functional aspect of one’s hotel interior design. Although this sounds so simple, I’ve seen how easily architects and interior designers get this wrong!


It was a hot and very humid mid-morning when my wife and I arrived at this 5-star hotel near the ocean. We had to hang around for a while to check-in, since our room was still been readied - understandably so, as we had come a tad early.


Seated in the partially walled open air lobby with spaces that open into the outdoor garden, I wondered why it felt so warm. Looking up to the lofty wooded ceiling, I observed several ornamental ceiling fans that fitted in with the overall rustic design of the lobby zone rotating very slowly. When I asked a hotel employee to increase the fan speed, I was told that they cannot rotate any faster due to malfunctions. I thought that the slow speed of the ceiling fans may be due to dust accumulation, motor problems, maybe even capacitor issues and resigned myself to sweating out the wait, until we could get to our hotel room.


Lunch was served at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant which was described “eclectic with contemporary batik motifs offering a sense of space and artistic creativity”. Lo and behold, the same type of ceiling fans was installed there as well. And, they all were rotating slowly as if in silent protest. Thankfully, there were several pedestal fans that had been placed to cool the place. Whilst these ungainly looking industrial-type fans occupying ground space warped the aesthetic look of the restaurant; as far as form (design/ambiance) was concerned, functionality, and in this case, minimizing the discomfiture of diners with the circulation of cool air seemed to have thankfully won the day.


They say “Solutions are just as easy to find as problems are created”. Unfortunately, when interior designers are concerned with achieving only design testimonials that market their creativity at the expense of operational concerns, the solutions can be far from perfect. I’ve encountered hotel operators who held reputed architects and designers in absolute awe, allowing them to get away with anything short of murder – because they feared that pushing for ensuring both design and operational outcomes would enrage them. On the other extreme, there are hotel owners who hire professional interior designers and tell them what to do!


When architects and interior designers get it right where form follows function, the hotel owner is left ecstatic. But when form has ignored function; unlike the doctor who can bury his mistakes, the hotel operator, as in the case of the hotel I mentioned above, has to place pedestal fans instead.


Shafeek Wahab – Editor, Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Trainer, Ex-Hotelier



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