Hotels and Sustainability

Over the last fortnight, I have taken part in two panel discussions as part of the Festival of Hospitality, a month-long series of events in London put together by the team at Always Thinking. The first, chaired by Kerri Lewis of K&J Solutions with Grace Leo of the Relais Retreats, Oliver Leach of Cumming and Will Tindall of Emerging Advisory, took place at the nhow hotel just off City Road. The discussion started as a reflection on priorities for hospitality businesses as they start to recover from the last eighteen months of the pandemic and quickly developed into a discussion about resilience, supply chains, design ethics and passive climate design. It also considered business and creative practices adopted during the pandemic that should be sustained or developed further.


The second discussion was chaired by Andy Downey of Elliott Wood at the Building Society below Elliot Wood’s Fitzrovia offices. Also on the panel were Rachel Hoolahan of ORMS, Georgia Foy of Iceni Projects and Neil Andrew of Perkins&Will. Key themes were general literacy and awareness around sustainability and where the drive for increased commitment to net zero and sustainability will come from. There was, however, an acknowledgement that we already have the tools and the knowledge we need to implement meaningful change, so, why isn’t it happening?


The lack of a BREEAM-like accreditation or scoring metric for benchmarking the sustainability of hospitality projects is perhaps one reason why it is less rigorously assessed in this context. But, given the urgency of the situation, this sounds as much an excuse and a prevarication as anything else. As Hoolahan pointed out, if we are going to see the implementation of meaningful change in anything like the necessary timescale, knowledge-sharing is going to be critical. Those practices and large consultancies that have the resources could share the systems and databases that they develop openly, so that smaller practices can implement these practices on a wider scale than would otherwise be possible.


An example of this is Hoolahan’s work on material passporting. Firstly, this prompts designers to think about the materials and products that they specify beyond the initial application. Secondly, it enables designers to re-specify products for a second use with some confidence about the provenance and performance of those materials or assemblies, which is important for quality, but also critical for warranties and insurances. This is especially relevant in hospitality where fitouts are typically refreshed and sometimes entirely replaced within a three-to-five-year cycle, well within the 10, 25 or 50-year design life that you might ordinarily expect. Even on the face of it, this scenario cannot continue. Designers and hoteliers will need to rethink how they might position a hospitality experience to embrace re-use and the character lent to materials and finishes by the patina of use.


The embrace of re-use, character and patina aligns with Foy’s observation about the natural synergies between heritage and sustainability. Refurbishment or retrofit avoids the embodied carbon involved in the process of demolishing and building new structures but is also important to the maintenance and viability of our historic townscapes, itself an issue of sustainability. These are things that Translation Architecture consider regularly in the course of our work. We also believe there is a more nuanced approach to how we repurpose and reuse buildings to make them both meet contemporary expectations of environmental comfort and energy efficiency, but also be able to exist in a state of equilibrium with their immediate environmental and social context.


ARUP have published a detailed report on the transformation of existing hotels to net-zero operations, in collaboration with Gleeds and others. The report, importantly, makes the commercial argument for undertaking this transformation, detailing the improvement in the asset value as a consequence of the reduced energy costs and improved resilience of the building. Making this case is especially important for hotels, which are of course commercial operations.


It shifts the debate about sustainability from one where it is seen as supplementary to one where it is fundamental to the survival or continued viability of a hotel. This brings me neatly back to the point about where the drive for change will come from. The increasing frequency of extreme climate events – rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods, (which we have seen with alarming frequency over the last few years), not to mention pandemics and energy price spikes, is an existential threat to the viability of hotels. Designing the resilience to cope with these events into hotel projects will become a requirement, not just to guests who are increasingly considering sustainability in their choice of hotel, but also to investors, owners and operators looking to the long-term viability of their investment or business.


The Festival have made a recording of the event available, which you can access here.


Image courtesy of The Festival of Hospitality.

Hotels and Sustainability

10 Oct 2021

Nicholas de Klerk

The Relais Henley: Historical layers and the Charles I wall painting

The site of The Relais at The Red Lion (Henley) includes architectural elements that extend from the fifteenth century through to the present day. The construction of the Chantry House, situated between St Mary’s Church in Hart Street and the Thameside courtyard of The Relais, has been dated to 1461 by means of dendrochronology. Historical layering is also evident in a wall painting which dates to 1632, during the reign of Charles I, and is in fact the monarch’s coat of arms.

‘It all started with a conversation’: Developing a Visual Identity for Translation Architecture

We wanted our visual and typographic identity to foreground the connections that Translation Architecture makes between writing, design process, collaboration, dialogue and building. Conscious of how important writing is to translating abstract ideas into design concepts, we explore new projects and develop ideas through writing, which we see as a crucial aspect of dialogue and collaboration.

The Relais Henley: Historical layers and the Charles I wall painting

We wanted our visual and typographic identity to foreground the connections that Translation Architecture makes between writing, design process, collaboration, dialogue and building. Conscious of how important writing is to translating abstract ideas into design concepts, we explore new projects and develop ideas through writing, which we see as a crucial aspect of dialogue and collaboration.