Community-Focused Design is Central to Hospitality
At the 2022 HD Expo + Conference, designers, architects and hospitality executives gathered to discuss the state of the industry while offering personal experiences and projects as guidestones for new approaches to design. At the DesignWell Pavilion, these talks centered around ongoing pushes towards more sustainable and wellness-focused developments, but among so many, there was a consistent throughline that cut through each: solving many of today’s issues through community-focused design in hospitality.
In these conversations, concerns of authenticity and inclusivity took centerstage, implicitly regarding the hotel as a ‘guest’ (albeit a semi-permanent one) in whatever landscape it seeks to occupy. However, it’s more than just a self-conscious response to the spotlight being shined on buildings now. In addition to its more moral backings, talks of designing within the context of community acknowledges the community’s role in combatting current issues, and the many ways a space can be comfortable.
A promotion of local stories itself provides a level of recognition and homey-ness for neighboring communities, while providing an authentic touchpoint for travelers to be able to connect with experiences outside of their own.
Of course, this approach to design can also strengthen community ties, increase resiliency amongst community members, improve population health, and, at its purest form, facilitate our innate desire for socialization by creating inclusive gathering spaces for the public and guests alike.
Local Engagement as Part of the Sustainability Equation
While this idea of more empathetic design is nothing new, it has become inextricably linked with many of today’s design priorities. As Victor Body-Lawson of Body Lawson Associates put it during a panel for equity in design, this current era can be viewed reinterpretation of the industrial revolution.
Global access to information through channels such as social media in addition to advances in technology and manufacturing have made great strides in democratizing design. Except, instead of leading to greater consolidation of manufacturing and construction practices, this newer revolution has led to refinement, adaptation and accessibility.
These elements have led to a more thoughtful approach to design that creates unique interactions between buildings and communities that, in its own unique way, can also serve as an act of climate justice, especially when juxtaposed with underserved communities.
In the context of designers and architects working in more sensitive regions, discussions of cultural sustainability can also be connected to talks of ecological sustainability as well. For instance, consider the carbon cost of using local materials versus importing. Traditional building techniques over industrialized processes? The current state of supply chain shortages shouldn’t be overlooked either.
In a way, this idea of engaging and growing communities through design has become its own approach in responding to current ecological concerns. As such, much like how design can give back to nature, so too can it be used as a generative force for culture and community.
Incorporating Communities Through Design Equity
In that same panel on design equity, Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet, Vice President of Determined by Design, says the process begins with an acknowledgement that people are what make places. A location’s history is made up by the neighborhoods and communities therein, and so projects occurring in that space should be viewed as a continuation of a story, with specific elements, selection of materials and presentation of spaces then connecting to that story.
For example, designers and architects can engage with local artists and craftsmen, providing a suitable platform for local voices and benefitting local economies. Alternatively, community members can collectively weigh-in on design choices to add another layer of authenticity while democratizing the design process.
For Sequoyah and her team, the initial viewing of a site usually includes a ‘neighborhood walk’ where they can see and interact with people in adjoining communities. Surveys also play a key role in better understanding the expectations and desires of surrounding neighborhoods regarding new construction.
However, as Victor outlined in his own experience, in more sensitive interactions between stakeholders where direct community engagement may not be possible, community forensics can play a powerful part in understanding people and their histories. He also emphasized the role of education during direct interactions with community members as well.
This plays into more regenerative aspect of community-building in design, injecting knowledge transfer and skill building into the process. In addition to providing a platform for expression and representation on a grand scale, these methods also help empower members of the community to pursue their own careers in design or architecture in the future.