By: Doris Hager, Principal of Hager Design International Inc.
The aftermath of the pandemic has prompted a re-evaluation of existing and planned urban buildings, especially the surplus or underutilized office spaces. There is an increasing demand for hotel rooms in popular cities like Vancouver. City officials and planners are endorsing the conversion of office buildings into hotels, triggering interest among developers and office space landlords/owners. However, the decision to convert is multifaceted. Involving economic, architectural, structural, market viability, and neighborhood compatibility considerations.
This blog touches on the pros and cons of converting existing buildings as it relates to design, and the impact of a hotel guest based on our experience in the industry. Careful consideration must be given to feasibility studies to determine the economic and market viability of a project and whether or not to proceed.
Pros of Converting Existing Buildings
1. Sustainability and Timeliness:
Adaptive Reuse: Repurposing older buildings not only breathes new life into aging structures but also aligns with sustainability goals. Preserving existing buildings means less demolition costs and environmental consequences.
Time and Cost Efficiency: Utilizing existing structures reduces construction time and costs compared to building new, appealing to both developers and environmentalists. Repurposing means the product can be converted quicker bringing it to the market sooner.
2. Diversification and Neighborhood Impact:
Community Enhancement: Converting offices into hotels contributes to the diversification of neighborhoods, providing a unique blend of professional and recreational spaces. Hotels offer amenities that younger office crowds enjoy - such as restaurants, bars and lounges, and larger spaces to hold meetings.
Increased Footprint: Hotels invigorate neighborhoods throughout the day and night, enhancing the overall hospitality footprint in the center of a city beyond traditional office hours. A new restaurant or lounge within a hotel would serve the residential neighbourhood or offices nearby. Typically, offices are located in busy areas near transit hubs or city centre making them ideal locations for hotels.
3. Infrastructure Utilization:
Reduced Structural Changes: Open floor plans of office buildings can be repurposed into hotel rooms and common areas with minimal structural changes, utilizing existing columns and openings.
Global Emission Reduction: Adaptive reuse minimizes the need for extensive structural changes, cutting down on global emissions.
Cons of Converting Existing Buildings
1. Infrastructure Limitations:
Slab Bands: Buildings with slab bands may pose challenges for installing new waste and supply lines, limiting the conversion potential to hotel bathrooms.
Square Configurations: Square office buildings may result in long and narrow hotel rooms or wide corridors, impacting natural lighting and room layout efficiency. Or alternatively the window mullion spacing does not align with the room width requirements for a hotel room. As a rule of thumb hotel rooms should be approximately 12’- 0” wide. Some anomalies are allowed by the big brand companies such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt but it must be approved by them before moving to permitting stages.
2. Building Layout Challenges:
Core Configuration: Office buildings often have a square shape with a center core of elevators and washrooms. Hotel buildings favor rectangular or L-shaped layouts that can accommodate rooms on either side of long corridors. The rooms are configured, and the corridors are designed with elevators in the middle between long corridors.
Outdated Layouts: Square office buildings also make hotel layouts difficult and have resulted in the industry term of ‘shotgun’ layouts seen in the 80's and 90's. These long rooms typically placed the living area at the entry without natural light, the bathroom in the middle blocking natural light to the living area, and the bed by the window. This layout is ineffective for modern hotel room designs. However, if the bathroom could be located by the entry, providing the plumbing can be properly routed, then the living and bed areas could be moved to natural light. The conversion is now viable.
Considerations for New Developments
1. Flexibility in Design:
Early Adjustments: Changes are easier to implement in the planning phase of new developments, providing flexibility in design. It is less costly to replan on paper than to re-build in the field. The project may need to be redesigned but there is an opportunity for effective space planning and concepting since the property hasn’t been developed.
Plumbing and Electrical Planning: Plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems can be tailored to suit hotel requirements from the outset making the property potentially more energy efficient with better flow and air circulation.
2. Complexity of Changes:
Structural and Building Envelope Challenges: After the drawings have been approved by all parties and the city, changes to structural elements and the building envelope in new developments are complex and require careful analysis. It is best to work within the building envelope to avoid a re-application or change in the development permit process. This also influences the structural components of the building.
Balancing Cost, Market and Design: Developers must weigh the best use of their property for a market 5 years down the road. Some projects take 15 years until completion and must be forecast with the future in mind. Offices are out of favor today, but will they make a come-back to pre-pandemic levels?
3. Comprehensive Planning:
Functional Considerations: Planning must extend beyond hotel room configurations to include meeting spaces, food and beverage areas, and back-of-house operations. The sizing and quantity of meeting spaces is based on the desired brand, if any, and the market that the developer is pursuing. Is it a business hotel or a leisure lifestyle hotel? Will this be a 3, 4, or 5-star property? These considerations impact the stresses placed on the building for square footage and adjacencies. Operations needs to be considered for the back of house (heart of house) areas to accommodate housekeeping storage on each floor, and staff areas that are typically located on lower floors or the back of buildings.
Traffic Flow: Ensuring proper traffic flow is crucial for a successful hotel. Thoughtful consideration of the adjacency of programming is required. For example, food & beverage spaces need to be visible from the street to be successful. Very few restaurants located on the 2nd floor above retail are able to draw patrons up. F&B is an impulse decision and must be an active and vibrant space easily visible and accessible from front desk check-in or the street. Meeting rooms must be column free to be effective and useful. Media needs to be considered when designing these spaces not only from a viewpoint of an audience but also for technical abilities and support.
In conclusion, the conversion of office spaces to hotels presents a viable solution to the changing urban landscape. While challenges exist, strategic planning and adaptation can transform underutilized spaces into vibrant and sustainable hospitality establishments. Developers and designers need to carefully balance economic considerations, design flexibility, and environmental impact to navigate the evolving demands of the post-pandemic era.
Doris Hager is the founder of Hager Design International Inc. also knows as HDI. The company and its partners have extensive hotel and hospitality experience and have worked on several analyses for converting offices to hotels. With over 30 years of experience, they are known as experts in their field of hotel design. Doris can be reached at email@example.com