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Designing hospitality with community at heart

The pandemic changed the hospitality industry for good, says Ed Plumb, Founder and Design Director at Studio Found. This presents exciting new opportunities as well as challenges for everyone, including designers. 

31/03/2021 5 min read

The pandemic has completely rocked the way we all interact and do business, and no other global industry has experienced this more cataclysmically than the hospitality sector. To survive, it has had to adapt and collaborate in ways it has never done before, it will have to continue to do so over the coming months and years.

Before COVID-19 struck, I think it was fair to say that as designers, business owners and even as human beings, we were all more driven by our desire to be different, to compete and succeed. Sometimes this meant that we forgot our responsibility and place within our own communities. The pandemic has certainly changed that and ironically, while it has enforced distancing and isolation, it has also brought us closer; in a ‘we’re all in it together’ mentality. 

As designer partners for a number of hospitality clients, Studio Found is encouraged to see how resilient and inventive hotels, restaurants and bars have been, especially through collaborating and connecting with their communities and neighbourhoods. This new approach will undoubtedly reshape the global hospitality industry for a long time, and as designers we need to be at the heart of supporting the evolution of the industry.

An attitude Gen Z & Millennials demand 

This community-focused approach must be at the core of any hospitality offering and business going forward. This is not only because of how radically things have changed, but also because a new generation of customers (Generation Z and Millennials) expect and demand this.

The annual Deloitte Global Millennial survey 2020 (which also includes Gen Z) highlighted the desire of these generations to take actions that have a positive impact on their communities. This includes actively supporting local businesses and brands that reflect community values. They won’t hesitate to ditch businesses that seem at odds with these ideals – those which aren’t rooted in community, are unethical or seem superficial. As their buying power increases (which a report by Boston Consulting Group predicts), their influence will too, so as hospitality businesses pivot, they must take note.

Community at the Core 

There’s been plenty of evidence of the focus on engaging and encouraging customers back with more authentic customer experiences and community-based initiatives. 

This can only be a good thing, not only for hospitality businesses, hotel, bar and restaurant operators and owners but also their suppliers, such as the designers and other local businesses they work closely with. 

One such story is that of Shelter Hall Raw, a food hall which was due to open on Brighton seafront until COVID-19 derailed its ambitious plans. A favourable adaptation of the lease agreement with a sympathetic Brighton & Hove City Council meant that the project could still go ahead, albeit in a new format.

A multi-million pound design & build was scaled back to a third of its budget and condensed into a six week timeframe. While offering a rawer concept than originally planned, the focus shifted to delivering a safe, authentic and community-led experience.

The landlord, designers and the local community all came together to make it happen and are all integral to its new concept; where local businesses are championed, and the community is reflected in its design and product curation. This is just one example of how the pandemic has brought purpose back onto the high street and into our hospitality spaces.

Continuing to support and nurture positive community relations and partnerships will be at the core of hospitality’s recovery and, as close collaborators, designers can make ‘community’ integral to hospitality spaces.

Designing with Community in Mind 

Through quality local consultation early in the design process, it should be possible to understand and identify what the community needs and how a venue or space can deliver on this. This in turn will help to define the design brief and inform the layout and 3D design. 

Assuming a host cannot offer a dedicated community space, there are likely to be two approaches to this, both with merit, presenting similar but unique design challenges.

One route may be to fully embrace a specific need in an area – for example does the community need a space for young people to use for dance or performance- based practice? For this approach, the host space can be designed to serve two very particular functions; function 1 being for primary use – for example a restaurant – and function 2 as the secondary use for the community.

Having two clear uses allows the designer to be more precise, with the design crafting the space. The second and perhaps more likely approach would be for a space that can be multi-functional; from hosting a local meeting to providing space for local events – much like how community halls function in rural areas.

Fabrix, a property investor and developer, is already making its portfolio sustainable with community, arts and culture its core purpose. The Bottle Factory in Peckham, (a former bottling warehouse), which opened in 2019, has over 30,000 sq ft of adaptable, multi-use space for artists, makers and music events.

This summer a collaboration with Corsica Studios saw The Bottle Factory host The Paperworks; a lively music programme combined with creative arts experiences, offering a selection of contemporary street-food, drinks and cocktails to create a new open-air destination for South London. Last year, it was also used to film Qweens’ Speech – a vibrant alternative to the Queen’s Speech, shot by Zhang & Knight at ACNE for Dazed. In addition, Movember used the space to host a Christmas fundraiser with all the proceeds going towards meeting the charity’s goal of reducing male suicide by 25% by 2030.

The requirement for total flexibility is an exciting challenge for any designer, with these three key principles to consider:

1. Materiality and durability

Spaces that are adapted, changed and moved around take a beating. To ensure the space continues to look smart, choosing the right materials and furniture is key. Upfront investment will pay dividends when owners are not shelling out for new items a year after opening.

For Old Spike – a Coffee roastery and barista training centre also in Peckham – a clear understanding of the various functions and requirements from the space was fundamental to the success of this project, which we worked on with ANDTHENSTUDIO.

This influenced the material selection, which needed to be low cost, durable yet impactful. A simple and hardwearing material palette of stained plywood, steelwork frames/mesh and polycarbonate was developed to ensure longevity whilst maximising visual impact. Where possible, we reused existing finishes, making use of the brickwork and the concrete floor. 

2. Storage

Ensuring there is adequate storage for items that are not required for certain functions will not only protect these items from damage through misuse but will also make for a much tidier, smart looking space, which will encourage users to look after the venue.

3. Don’t try to be too clever

Trying to create an object or a piece of furniture that can be adapted, folded or broken down in order to perform a multitude of functions often leads to over complicated designs, which are not only expensive to construct but also prone to damage. Keeping it simple and using quality items that are fit for purpose will help increase longevity.

I am certain that, now more than ever, designers will be at the heart of helping the hospitality community survive these challenging times. Our focus will be to design and create welcoming and multi-functional hospitality spaces that meet the needs of the neighbourhoods and communities they serve. It will be an exciting and rewarding challenge that we should all relish. 

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