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Interview with Michel Gicquel, Architect Trends & Style division Accor Group : "The future lies in flexibility"

As he constantly observes the evolution of the urban habitat, Michel Gicquel borrows lessons from it that allow him to define the room and hotel for tomorrow. Going straight into the computer age, hotels must redefine the functions of a room while managing new requirements. Fortunately, technology offers a wide variety of solutions.

HTR Magazine: How do you see the evolution of the urban habitat? Michel Gicquel:

In the mid-19th century, we went from the rural era to the industrial era. The rural habitat was organised around a single room where the family slept and ate all together, sometimes with the animals. “Moving up to town” made society evolve both its behaviour and its habitat. The shift was made from the single living space to single-purpose spaces, with the appearance of the dining room, the living room, the bedroom… Now we are experiencing a not dissimilar transition with the end of the industrial age and the entry straight into the computer age in the broader sense of the meaning.HTR: Will the evolution go beyond the hotel room itself? _ M.G.: The lobby must evolve as well. It isn’t normal for its configuration to remain the same morning, noon and night while client functions and expectations are different. The automation of check-in, check-out is no longer an aberration even in luxury hotels and must make it possible to rethink reception. This is the opposite of a dehumanisation. It is a re-allotment of the role of reception personnel within spaces that are rearranged to ensure that hotel check-in and check-out are stress free.HTR: What changes will this lead to in the home and hotel industry? _ M.G.: The entry into the computer age goes hand in hand with new constraints that will have a major influence on the home. The first is the cost of energy, the second is the cost of maintenance and construction, related to labour problems and the explosion of real estate. The major challenge is thus to adapt to all these constraints while staying within a tight budget in order to avoid increasing the average daily rate of the room, which would be unacceptable to the market.HTR: When should this change take place? _ M.G.: Such transformations occur over a 20 to 30-year period, which is the length of the cycle to renew the urban habitat and achieve a full change in the universe. In Europe – it isn’t quite so true for the United States – the urban habitat is mature and 90% is already developed. But it presents one advantage, which may also be found in hotel construction: the architectural framework is simple allowing for interior transformations and redistribution of space without affecting the structure of the building.HTR: How will technology help you? _ M.G.: The appearance of powerful machines that are less and less expensive, and shrunk down in size such that they may be placed throughout the house brings new functions. In many sectors technology has evolved as well. There are a few examples. One such is lighting, which has been revolutionised by LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology, which is a very economic light source in terms of energy consumption and lifetime, over 60,000 hours, and it does not throw off heat. This universal technology eliminates the need for too wide a variety of lightbulbs (up to 60 different types in some hotels); they offer a great deal of flexibility for creating environments. This logic belongs to the 21st century. Another example is the bathroom where the “rain shower” offers greater comfort, a pleasant sensation in the shower, through technology that fragments water drops that also makes it possible to economise significant quantities of water. The purpose of the bathroom has evolved from one for hygiene to one for pleasure and relaxation. A certain sensuality has been added to the ambience and the decor offers the possibility of an opening onto the outside, be it onto the room or the landscape, depending on which lends itself best. Once again, technology and new materials make all this economically possible. Pleasure becomes ever more accessible.HTR: How does the shift from habitat to hotel take place? _ M.G.: What is a hotel if it is not a temporary habitat where one expects to find at least the comfort of ones own accommodations while accepting to experiment and test new things. For the habitat of tomorrow the golden rule will be flexibility. It will be neither open nor closed. It must be translated into hotels. The user will become the producer of his desires, his needs, his encounters. Flexibility in spaces must be through the flexibility of furnishings. Each element must be multi-functional. When a desk isn’t needed, it must be able to become something else or be collapsed. Space will become the absolute luxury. The function of an architect will be to recreate space and favour the liberation of functions.HTR: How must new consumer behaviour be interpreted? _ M.G.: Let’s look at the bed, for example. Recent generations have developed the habit of working in bed. Now, Wi-Fi has eliminated the constraints of wire connections, making it possible to anywhere, in the bedroom, the kitchen. The new television screens, deprived of their bulk, are also more flexible and may easily make their way into the bathroom, onto the work table, anywhere one might want to watch television. Today, the habitat conforms to people’s desires with an extreme level of mobility. There is a shift away from the notion of single purpose rooms that lie at the core of the “Haussmann” or “Victorian” habitat. The hotel room must reflect this new expectation. While it will still have a single major function, this function will no longer be exclusive. Functions will to move out of one room and into the next: people will work in the kitchen, eat in the bedroom, watch television in the bathroom… Every possibility must be taken into account. Technology makes it possible, the spaces, furniture and decoration just need to be adapted to it.HTR: What will the role of decoration and interior design be? _ M.G.: Function will determine decoration and not the inverse. Decoration is still related to economic growth and fashion. These major trends are not passing phenomena, thus it is important not to make mistakes in setting priorities. Only once we have understood the expectations and functions does it become possible to translate them into an aesthetic and designer style. The approach must be kept very clear and very functional. One example: the night table next to a bed in hotels can no longer just hold a lamp. This doesn’t make sense. It must not have a limited purpose: be a place to put down a file, a glass, a tray, a computer,…HTR: Does this create a new constraint for building or renovating hotels? _ M.G.: Quite the contrary, it makes things much easier. We will be able to make the furniture evolve without changing the surface areas, which is very difficult in pre-existing hotels. Beds are growing longer as the population grows taller. Today it must measure at least 2.10 meters in order to be comfortable and allow the new functions I mentioned earlier. At the same time, televisions have become flat. Also, travellers optimise their travel wardrobe and have less and less luggage to put away, it is thus possible to reassign spaces without changing the basic space. The same is true for the desk, which is no longer as indispensable as it used to be because the working tool has become mobile and may be used in the train, at a café or in bed. The technological evolution can facilitate matters, but one must know how to pit it to its best advantage.HTR: Will the evolution go beyond the hotel room itself? _ M.G.: The lobby must evolve as well. It isn’t normal for its configuration to remain the same morning, noon and night while client functions and expectations are different. The automation of check-in, check-out is no longer an aberration even in luxury hotels and must make it possible to rethink reception. This is the opposite of a dehumanisation. It is a re-allotment of the role of reception personnel within spaces that are rearranged to ensure that hotel check-in and check-out are stress free.

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