Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hotels For Space Travellers

The video for Goldfrapp's "Pilots" features a futuristic departures lounge for space-travel crews. The design is clean, extremely clean. It is a design with whites, greys, silvers. Clean lines. Minimalism. Wall decoration is confined to quadratic shapes of dark greys and off-whites. Futuristic it is, but it is a futurism of the current day.

A few years ago, an Iberostar hotel in Playa de Muro underwent a reception-area transformation. Iberostar, a chain of superlative hotels which in barely more than a generation has grown from nothing to be one of the world's top brands, does design exceptionally well, and this particular reception was no different. It was all but space age. One could have imagined Alison Goldfrapp singing through speakers in the reception. "We're pilots watching Iberostars."

Context in design is everything, be the design interior or exterior. A four-star hotel being repositioned in terms of image can well qualify for a reception-area makeover that converts it into a 21st-century airport lounge. The Iberostar is far from the only example and far from the only example where this approach has worked well. Another hotel in Playa de Muro, Las Gaviotas, adopted a not dissimilar approach and all but recreated the "Pilots" video. It is excellent use of clean interior design that has removed the clutter and has concentrated on minimalist monochromes and creams.

The excellence of this design would not be so excellent if it were inappropriate. And this is where context is relevant. Las Gaviotas, through the simple addition of "Suites" to its name and supported by the sophistication of its design renovation, changed itself totally. One of the original hotels in the resort, it went from being of the old school to the new age, and its transformation was one undertaken before all the Balearics tourism-law talk of modernisation of resorts and hotel stock. As importantly, it went in search of a four-star market in accordance with its clean-lines makeover.

The context is three-fold. One is location, the second is the market, the third is the whole marketing package. Iberostar is essentially a marketing operation. Everything it does supports its image and its preferred market, and this is not a market of the low-rent variety. But perhaps more significantly, it doesn't adopt a single approach. What is right for one hotel isn't right for another.

However, a trend towards the Goldfrapping of hotel receptions has produced some questionable results. Where Iberostar can sensibly and boldly go space-age in a particular hotel, others do so, or appear to do so, on the basis of design flavour of the era rather than context.

Plenty of hotels need and have needed new designs. This is unquestionably so. One, in Puerto Alcúdia, was of such antiquity that when you opened its formerly wooden-framed doors, their stickiness suggested that they might come off in your hand. It went the "Pilots" route, as have others with varying degrees of greys, whites and aluminiums.

In pure design terms there is little to be critical of. Indeed, and on the one hand, the sophistication of this clean approach makes a statement of respect to customers. But on the other hand, is it the right approach? Only if everything else supports it. If, though, the market remains as it has long been - three-star, mainly economy-class, traditional family - is there not more to be said for design that conveys a more homely feel rather than one that is preparing the customer for lift off to Alpha Centauri? The potential downside of the "Pilots" treatment is that a statement of sterility is made: clean lines for clean rooms; laboratory-ism for receptions.

Another example, also in Puerto Alcúdia, is fine as an isolated element, but it doesn't match the rest of its package. Indeed, its marketing package is minimal to the point of non-existence. It is re-design without re-designing the market. It is without context.

The hotel reception is just one example of how a particular concept has caught on in Mallorca and not always for the best. Another is what one sees with residential accommodation. It, too, has embraced the clean approach of monochromes and steel and placed it in a box; architectural Cubism for the modern day. It's fine, there is nothing wrong with it, but is the context right? Moorish features with the colours of Mallorca - terracottas, yellows, oranges, even blues - these are the context of heritage and of the natural environment, now being edged out by living space for a space age alongside hotel receptions for space travellers. Maybe the context is right after all.

Any comments to please.

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