Early involvement by an experienced resort hotel architect can produce numerous benefits.
By Ronald G. Smith, NCARB, AIA GSB Inc.

A developer’s vision for an out-of-this-world luxury resort is often much grander than the real-world budget will allow. This hard reality demands a luxury hotel design team capable of making the vision affordable. A key step in making a project affordable is involving the major design team members at the very outset of a project. When an experienced architect joins with a developer from the beginning of a project, the team can develop a cohesive concept and establish a suitable budget. This helps to avoid spending a lot of time designing a facility for which there is insufficient money to build. The ideal situation is to involve the design team in the development of a master plan. The design architect is responsible for – and compensated for -- generating ideas about utilizing the site, accommodating future growth and expansion, and the phasing of development.

In the Beginning
Luxury hotel developers often have in-house architects and staff capable of producing conceptual plans for luxury hotel and resort projects. Such architectural drawings need to be examined carefully to make sure the program is complete. An architectural firm with considerable hospitality expertise can review conceptual drawings with an eye for programming and point out what is missing. It is easy to omit or overlook functional design elements, such as a shortage of banquet storage, inadequate space for mechanical and electrical equipment or ineffective back-of-house or public circulation. Once any programmatic or area adjustments are made, the preliminary concept can be refined into a schematic design. It is critical that the architect is brought in as early as possible, even with a fully defined program. Failing to evaluate both the program and the developer-provided conceptual design means that time and money will be lost as problems surface later in the design process.

Can You Visualize It?
Project imagery boards help all participants visualize the project’s design direction. After meeting with the client and listening intently, the architect can begin researching and gathering images that reflect the developer’s vision for the luxury resort project. Image boards with architecture, landscape and furniture depictions convey the atmosphere and aesthetic of the project. The development team can determine if these images represent their ideas about the project, or if further clarification is needed to establish the design direction. These image boards provide a basis for specific and productive discussions about architectural vocabulary, colors, materials and finishes. A luxury resort can be traditional in appearance or contemporary and the direction the architect takes can be established with this imagery. As an example, we worked with a developer who wanted to create a luxury resort hotel and conference center that offered a Scottish golf experience. The initial ideas were presented in narrative form by the developer, and we reviewed the program for completeness and accuracy. The architecture and golf heritage of Scotland and the British Isles was thoroughly researched, and we compiled an array of images including manor houses, castle ruins, Cotswold cottages, and the landscapes of links-style golf courses. The images powerfully and clearly illustrated the design concept and allowed the developer and operator to understand and agree upon the project’s architectural aesthetic direction.

Agreement about the site configuration and fine-tuning of the architectural forms and materials was reached gradually through several meetings. A photo of a world-famous Scottish golf course with a moat and green in the foreground and the clubhouse in the distance inspired a rendering of the new resort in the same environs. In a multimedia presentation, this dramatic photo faded into the project rendering, illustrating the direct influence of the Scottish golf legacy and showing the dramatic relationship between the links course and the manor-style luxury resort hotel.
Visual communication is a powerful tool that allows everyone involved an understanding of the development of the design. Before the conceptual design phase is completed and schematic design begins, approvals must be obtained to ensure that every party in authority agrees with the project’s architectural expression as well as its floor plans and functional relationships.

Keeping On Schedule
Hotel developers usually have a specific target date for the opening of a resort hotel or resort project. Unless it is an unreasonably aggressive goal, the target date can be achieved by an experienced team if the developer knows the different design phases involved and understands what all parties must accomplish in order to meet each deadline. To reach each project milestone, the developer has the responsibility to be responsive and needs to make decisions in a timely manner. The design team should explain the consequences to the project schedule if a particular design phase is not completed on time.

Occasionally, developers allow too much time for their project to be completed. They assume that a hotel requires more time for design, when it can be designed in less – saving time and money. It is important that the design team creates the most efficient schedule possible for each project and remains vigilant in meeting every milestone and deadline throughout the design process.

The Importance of Site
Site selection is, of course, also critical to project success. Most often, developers conduct their own site searches, analyzing potential traffic, studying nearby properties, and preparing occupancy projections. However, it is often beneficial to the developer if the architect contributes to the site selection process with input regarding utilities, topography, access, views and the required land area.

In some cases, the architect can provide land or property assessments in advance of a potential acquisition. As an example, a developer was considering purchasing an existing property and had only general ideas about possible renovations and upgrades. After we evaluated the facility and listened to the developer’s intentions, it was determined that replacing a restaurant with an additional ballroom wanted by the developer was unwise because the columns of the hotel tower above would compromise the space. Armed with this and other assessment information, the developer declined to invest in the property because the desired upgrades were more complicated and likely more expensive than anticipated.

Lack of attention to building and life safety codes can be disastrous. If a developer has a preconceived design concept, a knowledgeable hotel design architect must review it for code compliance. Codes are particularly critical in the conceptual phase of hospitality projects in that compliance significantly impacts functional design. The width of corridors, stair tower locations and the path and capacity of egress all must be reviewed at the earliest possible time.

Architects that can proficiently combine effective functional design, creative aesthetic expression and technical expertise are well-equipped to create a hotel design that is right the first time and transforms the developer’s vision into a successful reality – from start to finish.

Ronald G. Smith, NCARB, AIA
GSB Inc.

Since founding GSB Inc. in 1979, Mr. Smith has been involved in the design of hospitality and entertainment projects in excess of $1 billion. With nearly four decades of experience, he brings a wealth of knowledge to resort hotel and resort projects across the United States.