Rethinking Hospitality Design – Pandemic Lessons

Rethinking Hospitality Design – Pandemic Lessons
Rethinking Hospitality Design – Pandemic Lessons

Rethinking Hospitality Design – Pandemic Lessons

Hospitality’s Response to the Pandemic

Currently, the global COVID-19 pandemic underscores all our public interactions. Living under restrictions and fear of infection is hopefully a short-term problem, yet there are many lessons to learn that can help us to minimize the risk of spreading contagious diseases in hospitality space and ways to improve health and wellness in the future.

While we don’t plan to live in quarantine long term, we should design spaces that make transitioning to higher levels of protection convenient and effective. Planning for such flexibility ahead of time can give hospitality providers the resiliency to remain open during future events or to reopen quickly.

Many strategies that promote good health were already becoming standard prior to the pandemic. These can be integrated into hospitality design to achieve healthy and resilient spaces. An example is the trend in hotels to opt for outdoor lounges and dining areas, which makes more sense than ever. Using both passive and active methods for controlling the climate of outdoor areas will extend their seasonal longevity. Another example is check-in automation through apps and kiosks. What began as employing technology as a convenience to the traveler can also shorten or eliminate the need for interactions at a registration desk. Hotels may also consider programming space for outdoor check-in at exterior lounges and touchless fixtures wherever possible.

The pandemic has prompted further health measures. Designing places for guests to enjoy spending time with friends, family, and coworkers while distanced from other guests can become a design opportunity rather than a temporary compromise. Look to architects like Paul Rudolph and John Portman Jr. who could masterfully carve out intimate gathering spaces within large volumes. It makes sense to consider what other spaces may be moved outside or have the option to be naturally ventilated. Corridors and activity spaces may function outdoors seasonally or year-round. These and other spaces, such as public restrooms, conference rooms, and other forms of shared guest workspace, all benefit from increased fresh air.

Natural ventilation, decentralization of space programming for social distancing, and facilitating interaction in outdoor areas benefits workers and guests alike.

Redefining Luxury

Luxury has long been a staple of the hospitality industry, enticing guests with rich interiors. With the new awareness brought on by the pandemic, however, the definition of luxurious or what denotes higher value to a guest in a hospitality setting is shifting away from material extravagance toward how an establishment values wellness and the environment. The pandemic has heightened the trend toward wellness.

Ample natural light in common and guest spaces is a good place to start; incorporating natural light with abundant greenery in both indoor and outdoor spaces takes it a step further. Plant life improves air quality and has physical and psychological benefits for patrons. Humans are naturally drawn to nature. These biophilic interventions enrich spaces with a connection to nature that translates to health benefits for guests.

Incorporating artwork can also contribute to wellness, as reported by Heather L. Stuckey, DEd and Jeremy Nobel, MD in their American Journal of Public Health study that highlights the link between art and physical and mental health. Integrating locally commissioned artwork and sculpture into the design of hospitality projects is a benefit to patrons as well as the local community. Further, many brands endeavor to integrate the local culture into their design, making the visitor’s experience memorable and cohesive with the locale. Artwork is an immediate connection to the local culture.

Wellness in design can be emphasized in other programmatic ways, like providing space for yoga or meditation in public spaces as well as making sure adequate space is allocated in guest rooms for private exercise of these and other health practices.


The hospitality industry can also move toward a standard of full accessibility and inclusion to increase wellbeing for all. For seamless integration of these concepts, planning must begin early in the design process.

All elements of an accessible design—furniture layout, casework design, placement of controls, hardware, fixture design, wayfinding, signage, space clearances, and restroom design—when considered early in the design process can be an opportunity rather than an afterthought. Creative solutions, rather than simple compliance with regulations, that make spaces more attractive and accessible will benefit everyone. Equal consideration for the material quality and aesthetic of accessible fixtures should become the norm.

Taking accessibility a step further toward inclusion, recent International Plumbing Code changes better accommodate restroom design for all genders, creating better accommodations for families and people of all gender identities. Public restrooms that support conferences and other events in hospitality venues should be as welcoming as any other space. As an added benefit in the ongoing pandemic, the fully enclosed water closet stalls, common in all-gender restroom design, serve not only as a privacy screen, but also as an added layer of protection from transmission of communicable diseases like COVID-19. Organizations like Stalled! have developed inclusive design prototypes for several applications.

The pandemic made fresh air, cleanliness, and social distancing priorities. Incorporating other methods to increase health and wellness, such as biophilic design and strategies for accessibility and inclusion, will make hospitality design more welcoming to visitors, a safer place for workers, and more resilient in the uncharted future.

Jonathan House, AIA is a LEED Green Associate. He has practiced in Louisiana and Texas, collecting extensive experience on residential and hospitality projects, particularly restaurants, housing, and civic spaces. He is keenly interested in the interface between people and the built environment and how one affects the other.