New London hotels are upping the ante in the fight against threats to their takings from enterprises like Airbnb by concentrating less on mere bedrooms alone and more on events and public spaces that create an ‘experience’.
That was one of the key take-aways from a fascinating breakfast conference at the NLA this morning. Sponsored by Arup, the ‘Five star’ event looked at a series of case studies on hotels projects and how they are aiming to capitalize on the record 18.8 million foreign visitors to London last year, within a rapidly developing sector.
First up was Martin Potter, design director of hotels and leisure for EPR Architects, who took the audience through his practice’s conversion of the Sea Containers building on the south bank. Built originally as a hotel, the scheme had been converted into an office before the loss of a major tenant in 2010. EPR focused on how the existing building could be retained – demolition was too expensive – and modified to create bars and restaurants, new hotel accommodation and offices, inspired by the kind of ‘lifestyle’ offer in places like The Hoxton, Rosewood and St Martins Lane Hotel. The practice worked with Tom Dixon on creating a ‘destination’ hotel themed loosely as an ocean liner on the Thames, with rooftop bar, a spa, gym, meeting rooms and screening rooms adding to the revenue creating areas and including bespoke Tom Dixon furniture in the rooms.
Arup’s Global Hotels and Leisure Business Leader Martin Radley presented a number of projects including a conversion of the Camden Town Hall annexe opposite St Pancras into a Standard Hotel for Crosstree. The 270-key scheme is designed by ORMS, has been ‘brought to life’ with three additional floors and aims to be a ‘buzzy’ attraction. ‘This will be a destination and a place everybody will talk about’, he said. However, some hotels needed ‘forensic’ treatment, with horror stories including smoke extract systems held up by coat hangers and bedrooms above nightclubs with little in the way of acoustic barriers. ‘Well thought-out engineering is worth the money because you are stuck with it for a long time’
Sheppard Robson’s Dan Burr presented 66-86 Farringdon Road, a mixed hotel and offices scheme now in for planning which aims to revitalize what is a rather ‘forlorn’ section of the road, animating the ground floor with ‘life back into the street’. The scheme aims to replace an NCP car park and the hotel sits between the chain of Holiday Inn further down towards King’s Cross and boutique nature of, say, The Zetter round the corner in Clerkenwell. But during discussion Burr suggested that planning policy around hotels is unsophisticated and was not keeping pace with the need for compact hotels in urban sites.
Finally, Nick Hartwright, director of the Mill Co Project, showed The Green Rooms, a plan to create the UK’s first social enterprise hotel, an inexpensive place to stay in Wood Green for artists and theatre groups. The scheme is a joint venture with Haringey Council, a sympathetic restoration of a 1925 building where double rooms will go for £50 and will include a new range of homeware in the rooms designed by fashion company Folk. Already institutions like the Royal Court theatre have signed up, since their foreign writers programme people are staying in ‘isolating’ digs elsewhere. ‘It’s not only about price, but the experience people have’ said Hartwright. ‘People want to be somewhere and experience it.’
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly