Hotels Become Design Attractions

This is the final installment of my presentation on the evolution of hotel design. I hope this might inspire other designers to take a closer look at your out-of-town accommodations for inspiration the next time you set about designing an environment for the comfort and use of people.

portman_hyattArchitect John Portman’s hotels set a modern, upscale tone. His Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened in 1967 as the world’s first atrium hotel. When it opened, visitors lined up to see it, described by one critic as “a concrete monster.” The top of the hotel features a Jetsons-esque flying saucer, and the 23-story atrium created a stir with its innovative use of space. The atrium was the prototype not only for future downtown hotels in the city, but also for a number of hotels throughout the United States. Portmanʼs hotels also featured artwork that set a modern, upscale tone.

Despite critical rebuke, Portman scored an immediate popular success with his innovations.


Boutique hotels began to emerge in the late part of the 20th century as a limited number of consumers desired something fresh, exciting and challenging, away from the design standardization that had become the norm.

Philippe Starck–the bad boy of design–started with his product design work and moved into space design. He reinvented the hotel using repetition, boldness, simplicity, sculptural modern gestures, and lighting. He envisions space from a theatrical perspective, and is careful to minimize the content. In the 1990s Starck was retained by Ian Schrager to design a series of boutique hotels in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The sameness of the chain hotels with their lack of character allowed boutique hotels to emerge. Some of these hotels have informed chains on how to change their approaches. The concept for W Hotels, for example, came from the success of Philippe Starck’s design approach.

disneyMichael Graves (with the firm Arquitectonica) brought postmodernism to Disney World by including historical references in an exaggerated cartoon-like fashion. He increased scale, punched-up color, and applied graphic patterns onto the façades. Graves used classically-inspired play block-like forms to add details to his buildings. He imagined theatrically-inspired high-chroma spaces that allowed visitors to step into the fantasy that is Disney World. Hotels at Disney World also experiment with scale, like EDSA’s All Star Resort. By making the small larger-than-life, designers can put visitors into an imaginary world, surrounded by fantasy.


Thanks to media like TV and the Internet, the consumerʼs visual sophistication is greater than ever before. This gives designers the opportunity to reinventing selective elements from the past for a modern consumer. No matter the exterior design of a hotel building, tradition and traditionalist reinterpretations often make an appearance to provide guests with a sense of sophistication that comes with Greek, Roman, Classical and Baroque design elements like statues and gilded furniture.


Exhibit designers can take a number of cues from the cycle of hotel divergence, convergence and divergence again. If there is one thing modern boutique hotels hold in common, it’s the idea that the presentation should be full of drama, loaded with a common theme, and carried through boldly and without hesitation. From reimaginations of traditional themes (like those of the old grand hotels), to minimalism and naturalism, there is plenty of inspiration to go around when searching for a theme for temporary spaces that are intended to tell a quick story.

It doesn’t matter that hotels are living spaces while exhibition booths are not. What is common is the need to engender comfort, interest and attraction–all aspects of the uniquely American hotel.

I used a number of sources in researching these past three blog posts. They include:

  1. Hotel: An American History by A.K.Sandoval-Starusz, YALE, 2007
  2. The American Hotel–an issue of The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts #25, Wolfsonian/Florida International University, 2005
  3. Chicago’s Grand Hotels by Robert V. Allegrini, Arcadia Publishing, 2005
  4. The Architecture of Leisure: The Florida Resort Hotels of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant by Susan R. Braden, University Press of Florida, 2002
  5. New Hotel/Architecture and Design by David Collins, Conran Octopus Limited, London, 2001
  6. Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age: The Architecture of Schultze & Weaver by Marianne Lamonace and Johathan Mogul, Princeton Architectural, 2005

One Response to “Hotels Become Design Attractions”

  1. [...] At the Exhibitor 2009 conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Jan Lorenc answered the question: How can hotels inspire exhibit design? [...]

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