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Industry Insight

A guestroom inside a older property

Industry insight: The thrill of designing a new hotel in an old shell

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Industry insight: The thrill of designing a new hotel in an old shell

With a little help from our friends at ADP Architecture, we explore how a hospitality brand’s personality can burst with creativity inside a heritage hotel. Amrit Naru, Director of ADP architecture, writes…

A guestroom inside a older property

It’s no secret that finding a suitable spot to build a new hotel is incredibly challenging. This is especially true in cities and towns, where open spaces are few and far between. But focusing on this idea of ‘open space’ misses a trick: with a bit of creative thinking, many hospitality brands are finding that their next hotel may have already been built.

This is certainly not a new idea, although challenges like the climate crisis have brought it to the fore. From former banks, department stores and offices to dilapidated theatres, there’s a worldwide treasure trove of underused buildings waiting to be brought back to life. Done well, this approach can unfold a rich, multi-layered story for guests and visitors, built on the foundations of a site’s intriguing historical features, and evolving through thoughtful redesign.

‘Doing it well’, of course, is the key here. History is full of insensitive reuse and shoddy restorations; any project like this also needs to work for the whole community, who will have strong attachments to historic buildings and landmarks. This means that it’s essential to collaborate with as wide and inclusive a group as possible, covering disciplines as varied as architecture, interior design, artwork, branding and marketing, sustainability, technology, legal support, financial advice, historical expertise, and the practical work of construction.

Take North Tyneside, where ADP’s Newcastle studio recently worked with the local council to bring new life to Spanish City. This Edwardian seafront building with its distinctive dome is a shining example of early 20th-century seaside entertainment – but in spite of its latter-day fame as a venue for live rock music, Spanish City eventually fell into disrepair and was left empty in 2002. When North Tyneside Council began their ambitious plan to regenerate the complex, it was essential for them to consider how an Edwardian building could appeal to 21st-century interests, without losing what had made it special in the first place.

It’s worth looking at this problem in more detail, since it’s at the heart of every project to repurpose a historic building, and sparks questions which certainly don’t have easy answers. What is the history of the building, and why is that history interesting or valuable? How can a new identity – as a hotel or leisure venue – add to that history as a new chapter, rather than detracting from it? What key physical elements and ideas could best tell this story? How can the team use art, design and architecture to help guests understand the identity and story of the hotel – and, ultimately, allow them to participate in it?

At Spanish City, for instance, uncovering that history involved reversing some of the changes that had happened during its lifetime. The building’s standout feature is its dome, constructed from reinforced concrete with a technique perfected in France and scarcely seen in the UK at the time. From the outside, the dome has always been visible for miles around; inside, though, an additional floor was added barely a decade after Spanish City opened. One of the most magical moments in our renovation of the building was removing that floor, and experiencing – for the first time in almost a century – the feeling those first visitors would have got when they stood on the ground floor and looked up through the triple-height atrium to the dome above.

At Spanish City, the standout feature is its dome, constructed from reinforced concrete.

At Spanish City, the standout feature is its dome, constructed from reinforced concrete.

Of course, there are additional challenges when a historic building is involved. Planning introduces new demands and stakeholders such as local conservation groups: the key here is to view the planning process not as an obstacle to be overcome, but as an opportunity to make sure that the project works for everyone. Put engagement first wherever possible, and speak to the community as early as you can to get their buy-in and understand their concerns. Investing that time early on can pay massive dividends at the planning stage – and can even turn a potential naysayer into a passionate advocate.

This frees up time and effort to make sure you get the details right. Infrastructure standards across historic buildings can vary wildly, and it’s vital to understand what you’re dealing with in terms of fabric and mechanical or electrical components. Do these need to be upgraded? Adapted? Or ripped out entirely and replaced? If the building had a different former use, how will the new infrastructure need to reflect that? Bear in mind that the infrastructure demands for a modern hotel are far different from other commercial uses, particularly when talking about older buildings.

Again, these surveys will need to happen early enough in the process to allow you to make a decision on whether the development is feasible – and not only from a financial perspective. Historic buildings often rate poorly in terms of sustainability, so engineers and technical experts will need to think carefully about whether (and how) the site can be made to meet required standards of any zero-carbon initiatives or sustainability goals. Not putting in that early legwork can lead to massive disappointment later down the line.

If this all sounds a little overwhelming, it may help to remember that any number of historic buildings can be and have been converted to hotels, restaurants and recreational destinations – often with tremendous success. Where there are challenges, there are also a wide range of innovative and exciting solutions, and an apparent hurdle could be the USP of your new hotel. Take Oxford Castle, where we designed a particularly unusual historic conversion: turning a 19th-century prison into a modern hotel for the Malmaison brand. The project’s success lay in identifying unexpected similarities between two apparently very different types of building, and our approach was encapsulated in the way that the original prison doors –used to keep prisoners in – became doors to private rooms, keeping the rest of the world out.

In fact, a single detail like that – a door, a view, a piece of decoration – can act as a hook to a much wider story, turning a routine overnight stay into something truly memorable. This effect often gains extra power from its unexpectedness, as guests typically don’t expect a hotel to tell a story. It’s important to make wider decisions about how that story fits into the more practical context of a project: how each space can tie into the narrative, from rooms to add-ons like a spa or retail, and how a brand can potentially add to (or detract from) the message.

Looking to the future, our adaptive reuses must resonate with sustainability. New technologies that mitigate the challenges of rising energy costs were the draw of a shiny new state of-the-art building – think building management systems, sustainable energy, innovative construction methods and materials – alongside all the elements that a future guest will expect. These technologies and elements are now more easily integrated (and accepted by the conservators and planners) into older buildings. And they have become more accessible and affordable to support the viability of these developments.

Our focus at ADP is on the positive experiences our buildings create for people and communities, and how they can benefit the environments around them. We work with our clients using a bespoke Sustainability, Belonging and Engagement (SBE) Assessment Tool and a research-based approach to measure, monitor and maximise the adaptive reuse and longevity of a building.

The potential to transform historic buildings into unique and long-lasting hotels is endless if you approach with creativity and a confident vision of what an unloved asset could become.

ADP Architecture is one of the brands that has taken advantage of our Industry Support Package. To keep up to date with supplier news, click here.

Main image credit: ADP Architecture

Industry insight: bathroom planning for the future of hotels

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Industry insight: bathroom planning for the future of hotels

As the pandemic continues to challenge existing hotel concepts in all sectors of hospitality, the conventional bathroom and wellness area is being confronted. Tony Taylor-Sherif, Area Specification Consultant at Schlüter Systems who delivered a PRODUCT WATCH pitch at Hotel Designs LIVE, explains…

It is no secret that 2020 has been an unpredictable year with challenges faced by all due to Covid-19. The hospitality sector is one of many which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, but hopefully a strong bounce back will be on the horizon due to the resilient nature of the industry.

However, the design and build of a hotel is a long process that can take a number of years, and predicting how the landscape of the hospitality sector will look on the other side of a global pandemic really is anybody’s guess. One thing that is certain, though, hotels at the early stages of the design process will need to be impressive, welcoming and have the all-important ‘wow’ factor.

Schlüter Systems’ latest range of shower boards could be a key player in assisting with the long-term plans of hotels going forward: a low height version within the Schlüter-KERDI-SHOWER-LTS range has been created specifically to work alongside the Schlüter-KERDI-LINE-G3 linear drain to provide low build up and level access whilst being fully waterproof.

Exclusive modern white bathroom with glass shower

Image credit: Schlüter Systems

The reason this product can help future high-rise hotels is that when installed with the KERDI-LINE-G3 drain, the KERDI-SHOWER-LTS low height offering has the potential to allow for an extra storey to be created with the additional space available due to the fall of 1:80. When return on investment is such an important factor, this option could make all the difference.

Not only does the low height offering provide architects with more space to build upwards, another benefit is that it can easily be installed as part of a warrantied and fully waterproof system. The KERDI-SHOWER-LTS can be used seamlessly with other products in their portfolio, such as Schlüter-DITRA-HEAT to offer the popular choice of underfloor heating, and the BBA-certified Schlüter-KERDI-BOARD for the slick creation of niches or partition walls.

New design bathroom with shower and two basins, in gray and white with black details

Image credit: Schlüter Systems

This will provide both hotel owners and their guests with the much-needed reassurance and peace of mind that the specified bathrooms will be long-lasting and reliable. Getting the parts behind the tiles right ensures that any elements you add to give guests an unforgettable experience will stand the test of time.

Although it is difficult to know what the next few years will look like for the hospitality sector, it is clear that hotels will need to offer the very best to their customers and with Schlüter Systems, this can be done stylishly with ease.

Since you’re here, why not read more about Schlüter System’s stylish niches and shelves.

Schlüter Systems was a PRODUCT WATCH pitch partner at Hotel Designs LIVE.

Main image credit: Schlüter Systems

Confessions of a lighting designer – what is lighting design?

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Confessions of a lighting designer – what is lighting design?

Throughout October we are, for the second time this year, putting the spotlight on lighting. To kickstart this series, we reach out to Gary Thornton, senior project designer at neolight global, to understand lighting design from the inside.

The profession of architectural lighting design is a relatively young industry, even though the practise of what we do in determining where there is light and where there isn’t has been around for centuries.

Of course back then this was simply people deciding where to put candles or, as far back as the 9th century, where to locate oil lamps.  But architectural lighting design as a more formal profession really only goes back to around the 1950s with the likes of Richard Kelly pioneering the practice, followed by people like Derek Phillips and Jonathan Speirs.

So what is lighting design and what is it that lighting designers actually do?  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried to explain this to my friends who think we “choose where to put light bulbs”!

It can be easily forgiven that it is not a widely known profession.  There is no formal educational pathway and many people stumble into the profession from a semi-related field of design and find themselves “doing lighting design” before they even realise what it is (myself included!).

As an example, our office comprises lighting designers with backgrounds in product design, interior design, electrical engineering, film and television, photography, sculpture and architecture.  There are indeed well-established Masters degrees, or undergraduate courses in Theatrical Lighting Design, but this is not the case for Architectural Lighting Design.  Something that has been brought up again recently in our industry.


Lighting concerns itself with how people perceive their environment, yet because light is intangible it has an intrinsic, and often underestimated, role in all aspects of visual design.

Working in a medium which remains invisible until it strikes a physical surface means that we lighting designers must be as concerned with the nature of the surface and the biology behind the human eye as with the light which strikes it.

Ambient illumination, direct light, reflected light, the use of colour, areas of relative darkness and contrast all contribute to how a space looks and how it feels, resulting in designs made up of layers of light.  The better lighting schemes consider what should be left unlit as much as what should be lit, so maybe we are just as much “darkness designers” as we are lighting designers.

Because of the immateriality, great lighting is rarely lauded.  If you walk through a space and it looks and feels great then chances are it is because of the lighting. Not to take away from the interior designer, architect, or landscape designer that has typically designed more of the physical environment, but certainly in how the colours appear, how the material textures catch your eye, whatever the mood it prompts or the visual aesthetic it provides, it is because of the lighting.

Poor lighting on the other hand gets no end of complaints.  Lighting that is overly bright or dark, too much glare, or feels cold and uninviting can make spaces feel uncomfortable so people don’t want to visit and spend time there.  Even the best interior design schemes can be marred by bad lighting, and at the extreme bad lighting can even be bad for your health depending on the time of day or the tasks required of the people using it.

Lighting for hospitality

At the core of neolight’s work is the hospitality sector, and one of my favourite spaces to illuminate is the All Day Dining restaurant within a hotel.  This is largely because it’s such a transformative space and great way to demonstrate the power of lighting.  An All Day Dining restaurant needs to be able to provide a bright and fresh environment for breakfast, right through to the warmth and relaxing ambience of an evening meal.

When you get this right, the space will look and feel like a different restaurant to the guests from morning to night.

Lighting experiences

Architectural lighting design really started an accelerated upward curve with the mainstream adoption of LED.  Since then light sources have been getting smaller and more efficient, and the fixtures themselves are increasingly packed full of technology.

Alongside this evolution of lighting technology has been an evolving expectation of the role of the lighting designer.  No longer are we providing simple scene-setting schemes with smooth dimming to meet the client expectations, now clients are looking for more engaging and dynamic schemes concealed within the fabric of the building, with light that entrains and supports your circadian rhythm, they want an experience.

Yes the experience is framed by the architecture, or informed by the interior design, or the service that you receive, but transcending across all of those to make it a good experience is good lighting design.

Lighting design = experience design.  And if that helps become popular on social media, then all the better.

To this end we are not just designers anymore.  We have to be artists and scientists, knowledgeable in Bluetooth and LiFi, experts in daylight and green building codes, understanding biology of the human eye, of the physics of light, and all manner of material properties.

And this is all before we even mention the Internet of Things, where we are suddenly being asked about the limitations of LoRaWAN as a protocol to control light fixtures with.

Lighting is digital

There is an underlying expectation to all of this that we are digitally savvy.  Lots of industries are going through change and digitisation, but lighting is changing right up there with them.  In order to keep meeting the expectations of a modern day lighting design, we have to be able to understand and design with all these evolving elements.

One particular attribute that I’ve taken on is learning to code due to the increasing overlap with disciplines that do require this, and at the very least we need to be able to coordinate with them. For example, this is a prototype app written in Python that communicates with light fixtures in a hotel room to automatically adjust the colour temperature and brightness based on personal circumstances, such as jet lag.

Internet of Things

We have gone through the exponential growth of LED and now we have even further miniaturisation of technology so there is virtually nowhere that LEDs cannot be integrated, and conversely almost anything, like a sensor or a camera, that can’t be put back into light sources.

Lighting is a prime choice for the IoT to piggy back onto as it has an already existing ubiquitous infrastructure of power and data.  This means that light fixtures can be used for monitoring space occupancy, improving shopping experiences, reporting crimes, and more.

But in order to be able to implement this we have to understand it, and that means lighting designers becoming experts in something else that isn’t traditionally “lighting”.  It’s becoming experts in data, cloud servers, and Bluetooth meshes as part of the whole IoT network.

And this isn’t a trend that’s going away. At a macro level Smart Cities are well underway around the world (we are working on a Smarty City strategy for a brand new city in KSA at the moment), and on a micro level it’s using your voice to control the lighting in your own home. Lighting is a key part of the future of connected services.

Covid-19 will undoubtedly accelerate the demand for contact-free environments. Why carry a physical ID or ticket and have to touch door handles, when AI could verify you and open the door automatically?  Why touch any number of surfaces and interfaces to check-in to a hotel, when facial recognition could automate this as you walk through the lobby and give you a “key” on your mobile phone?

In assessing these expected trends we see that lighting is well placed to provide this as part of the IoT. Retrofitting sensor-embedded light fixtures becomes much easier than ripping out ceilings, pulling cables, and installing new networks.

As part of this learning curve affecting lighting, designers are no longer just visiting project sites, but also visiting data centres that test these sensor embedded light fixtures and the data points that they capture to understand it first hand in order to be able to implement it as part of a lighting scheme.


As lighting becomes more understood it’s great to now be reading comments like this, highlighting the importance of lighting to a space.

But for every moment of understanding, we still work with wider design teams who still misunderstand what we do. Consultants that have heard of ZigBee or BLE, and so that’s how they want their lighting controlled – when in reality all they really need is a simple control plate.

Part of our role is taking a step back from the technology and really understanding the project needs. We won’t use technology for the sake of it, especially if it’s not needed and likely to end up not being used.  How often have you struggled with a fancy lighting control system in a hotel guestroom when a simple rotary dimmer switch would have been just perfect?

As lighting design finds its way into mainstream vocabulary, more buzzwords like “human centric lighting” have come to the fore, which is another misconception to overcome.

Human centric design is human focussed design. At the heart of this notion is what we have been doing for many years now.  Designing for humans.  Lighting for humans.  Lighting for, and with, people at the centre.

The future

Who knows what the limits are to where lighting will reach – even a few years ago we were barely imagining what we have today of subscription models offering Lighting as a Service, secure wireless data through light in LiFi, and even highly secretive LED spectrum recipes used in horticulture to maximise crop yield!

Of what I have no doubt is that as lighting design continues to advance and evolve, so will the humble lighting designer along with it.

Main image credit: neolight