The hotel industry
in Serbia has traditionally always been at the bottom of the real estate
development list. Hospitality projects have been few so far and
represent initiatives of only the boldest developers. The development
of the BEKO multifunctional complex is commencing. WATG, an outstanding
world-class design firm, will play a key role in the development and
realisation of that complex. The fact that WATG is designing a hotel
project in Serbia will enable the country, and Belgrade in particular,
to gain prestigious status on the hotel industry development map.
Of all the areas of architectural design, the hospitality sector is both one of the most glamorous and the most challenging. With its international locations, knowledgeable clients, expert operators and attractive budgets, it would seem to be the ultimate nirvana for the design professional.
one of the most robust of all sectors of the economy, tourism has grown
at an average of 15 percent per year for the past 30 years, the downside
of the equation is that the demand for hotel rooms fluctuates with cyclic
regularity from too few to too many beds as supply overtakes demand.
External factors, such as credit crises, shrinking holiday and business
travel, flu outbreaks, local security breaches, and even weather phenomena,
affect the type of design and location of the work. However, reduced
occupancies do have a positive effect: it enables older properties to
undertake renovation work and reinvest tax exempt maintenance funds.
So, as the demand for architectural services slows, the demand for interior
design services increases.
New hotel design has another function. It can act as a showcase for national aspirations and cultural awareness. This is especially true in the developing world. A new destination habitually strives to be as modern and up-to-date as the perceived competition, but as that destination matures it tends to focus on finding its own cultural identity.
Because hotels are very much the interface between outsiders and local society, in the mature stage of a destination’s tourism development a hotel’s design is often used to reinforce local culture and national pride. This is in stark contrast to earlier tourism development phases where societies often try to achieve a blend of tradition and modernity which is not always very successful.
While having to respond to the changing investment climate and the need for local identity, the hotel designer has to subjugate any personal design aspirations to remember that the actual client is the future hotel guest and that unlike many building types, there is only one reason to make a hotel: for profit.
The complex nature of hotel development can be seen in the range of design skills required. At a national level, tourism can make a significant contribution to the gross national product and has to be considered at the macro level of transport and job training. At the urban design level, a hotel is a significant entity: its traffic generation, logistics and commercial importance all influence and have an impact upon the surrounding neighborhood.
Architecturally, the hotel has to fulfill its financial investment in both capital and operating costs, while at the same time offer an attractive image which then has to endure for 50 years or more. Such an image can be challenging or conservative according to the vision of the developer and the flexibility of existing planning controls.
From an interior design perspective, there is the same challenging or conservative choice. Although rarely restricted by planning controls, owners and operators usually opt for the latter. Indeed, most of the major hotel management companies have tight restrictions on their in-house image which precludes much deviation from the safe and normal.
The above reasons are probably why there are few hotels that can claim to be in a cutting-edge modern idiom. As the “international” style is driven by the available choice and cost of modern materials rather than local character or identity, modern buildings are becoming as anonymous as modern cars. In a city context, few operators are happy managing a property that is indistinguishable from a neighboring office or other commercial building.
WATG and BEKO
In its 64 years of existence, WATG has been privileged to work all over the world on all the permutations of hospitality design, from the most prestigious like Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel to the more modest boutique hotels. Beach and golf resorts, ski lodges, city centre mixed-used business and residential complexes and tiny island hideaways all make up WATG’s product repertoire. With this broad range of building types and global locations, the firm has become expert in many different styles and is able to respond to various climatic conditions. In doing so, it has become synonymously famous for its lack of a trademark, generally preferring the sympathetic to the extrovert.
The BEKO project in Belgrade is a perfect example of the mixed design skills required to transform a 1930’s factory into a modern urban hotel. Its historic “modern movement” architectural style and National Heritage neighbor Kalemegdan create a wonderful opportunity to make a significant contribution to that area of the city, both in style and in the establishment of a new benchmark for neighboring property values.
But such a transformation has to be economically viable. Thirty percent of any hotel’s floor area is non-income producing. Twenty-five percent of its investment is in internal fittings, furnishings and equipment. Indeed, a hotel is part factory and part stage set. As a factory, it works at high efficiency with any savings, be it space, jobs, water, power or waste, going straight to the bottom line. As a stage set it has to provide the ambience for relaxation or business intensity, but it must easily change mood from morning to evening and winter to summer. It must be as appealing to the single traveler as to 200 conference delegates without inhibiting the enjoyment of either user.Viewing the BEKO development in terms of the contrast between the building’s functional demands and its aesthetic potential provides an exciting design opportunity. It is most appropriate that an old clothing factory should be recreated as the new hospitality venue for Belgrade and most pleasing that in this era of sustainability and vintage charm its old 1930’s style should now be fashionably chic and fit with the ideal of “timeless elegance” so sought after by the top hotel operators.
John Elliott, RIBA Senior Vice President