In recent years travel has become increasingly important, with the public’s heightened desire for leisure. Subsequently, hotels are no longer mere temporary lodgings, but places which must answer to increasingly finicky demands. Dull motels, with their monotonous designs which smack of the endless church spires scattered throughout the Seoul skyline, are undergoing extensive makeovers. Coming out into the streets are quaint and charming boutique hotels which are rising up against major hotel chains as competitors. Hotels are no longer a place to stop and sleep while on a journey, but have become a destination itself. In Korea, boutique hotels have been around since the mid 2000s, and more recently, they are becoming more diverse and colourful. In Europe and the Americas, where the hospitality industry was well established much earlier in history, special hotels designed by architects have long since been popular attractions in their own right. This article will examine these things that are often called ‘design’, ‘boutique’, or ‘art hotels’, and investigate their differences, the reason for their appearance in the city centres, and their changes and future potential in the Korean market.
reported by Shim Youngkyu
Hotels Invade the City
In the beginning, the American model of motels, defined as roadside hotels designed for motorists, made its way into Korea, and was adapted and differentiated into categories such as the Muintel (unattended hotels) and Luxurytel. In 1999, when the Public Health Control Act was amended, yeoinsuks, inns and hotels could no longer claim distinction, and the result was that the lines were blurred between hotels and motels. First and foremost, the difference between hotels and motels can be found in whether or not food and beverages are made available. Second, understand the definition of boutique hotels, it is necessary to review some history. The boutique hotel’s creation can be traced back to the American entrepreneur Ian Shrager, who in 1984, co-invented the term with the Morgans Hotel, and has since opened up a chain of nine hotels with French designer, Philippe Starck, from the New York Royalton Hotel in 1988 to the Hudson Hotel in 2000. Major hotel chains followed in response, and came up with a new luxury brand of accommodation. These are the premium brand hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, the Courtyard Mariott, and the W Hotel by the Starwood Group. On the other hand, Europe, which had a mature hotel industry in much earlier years, saw a huge boom in demand for hotels from the 1990s because of the development of transportation and popularization of travel. But because of the nature of its old cities and building regulations, it was near impossible to build new buildings, and the result was that the majority of hotels were built in remodeled buildings. The public desired something new, and the answer was in the Boutique Hotel that was built in the remodeled London Metropolitan. All the rooms were made at least suite level, and the number of rooms were limited to below 200, so as to make the hotel more exclusive and luxurious. As the word ‘boutique’ originally stands for ‘a small store that sells fashionable and sophisticated clothes’, interpreted loosely, it is used to mean small to medium sized luxury hotels that provide specialized services that aren’t offered in existing hotel chains. In a sense, this is the multiplexification of hotels, in that hotels are expanding into cultural complexes. The market and industry paradigms are changing, and business owners must step up to the challenge of setting themselves apart from the rest.
In cities full of tourists, hotels are a necessity. Alain de Botton wrote in his book, The Art of Travel, that hotels are not merely a place of stay, but of meditation and reflection. In other words, hotels are no longer a place to simply sleep, but have acquired various actions and aims. A few examples are the Hotel Puerta de America, in Madrid, Spain, with designs contributed by Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid, or the Nobis Hotel of Stockholm, Sweden. It is common for star architects to collaborate on such projects. Since the 2000s, Korea has also seen a rise in boutique hotels, such as the W Seoul of the Walkerhill, and the Park Hyatt of Hyatt Hotels. Especially in recent times, with the explosive rise in Japanese and Chinese tourists, and the consequent amendment of the City Accommodation Act, there has been a surge of such hotels. The problem was that the majority of such projects were monopolized by large architectural firms, and this left no room for architects and ateliers to compete. However, things have been changing, and more and more architects are creating their own versions of small but quirky boutique hotels.
The Snow Hotel are not merely about how well or neatly the materials are bound together, but the driving force of design itself. Where different neighboring materials met, sprang the possibility for new design.
A Spatial Approach
In Korea, small design hotels, such as the IP Boutique Hotel in Itaewon, and Hotel the Designers, have been on the rise since 2010, when they began to challenge the dominance of large hotel chains. Design hotels are small to medium-sized hotels that have applied unique interior design concepts to their lobby and guest rooms, and are otherwise known as ‘gallery hotels’ and ‘concept hotels’. They are particularly for clients who are willing to sacrifice room size for the value of design. On the other hand, boutique hotels value not only design, but location as well, because depending on the climate of where they are, the facilities, windows, air circulation and air conditioning must all be adjusted accordingly. The Metropolitan Hotel London, for example, rose to stardom since the time of its opening because of the Japanese restaurant, Nobu, and the famous club among its offerings. Thus, it is not only top of the line design, but also the food and beverages, level of services and the staff’s line of movement and hospitality that must all be taken into consideration for a boutique hotel. All facilities exist not merely for business, but the well-being of guests. The following cases to be examined, are not boutique hotels in the strictest sense of the word, but are cases of joint collaborative design by architects, that showcase an entirely new concept of hotels, beyond existing ones. Therefore, this article will approach these examples not merely on the level of interior design, but a spatial approach.
Seungmo Lim is a young architect who designed the room named Pure Crystal at the Hotel the Designers in Jongno. Its location was such that because of the hotel’s proximity to its neighbouring buildings, windows could not be installed–a fact that the designer turned on its head to create the entire room as a crystal that exuded its own light. The room is an L-shaped plane, wherein the bed, sofa, table, bathtub, washroom and toilet are all aligned in order. While the walls and layers divide and expand space, the translucent material maintains a visual continuity. Though the space is not a large one at 31m2, the continuous furniture and gleaming walls blur the edges, and make the room seem larger. The patterns on the floor, the curved lines of the furniture and the ceiling’s louver all read coherently as part of a single design language, which extend beyond the room out into the hallway and lobby. Lim says that he ‘sought to have fun by creating a variety of spatial concepts in limited space’.
Kim Jongho, CEO of Design Studio, has been working on hotels for a long time, and has designed the first boutique hotel in Korea’s history, the Park Hyatt, as well as the Inter Continental Asiana Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City. Large chains do not usually commission Korean architects, so Kim is a rare example indeed. Last May, the Bathtel, his latest work of remodeling, opened in Juan-dong, Nam-gu, Incheon. This small hotel of 29 guest rooms is special in that, as its name suggests, it puts its bathrooms at the forefront. The building owner, who happens to be a bathroom building materials producer, has created this place as a sort of hands-on experience showroom. Half of the rooms are wet zones, and are not clearly distinct from the dry zones. The exterior facade of the building, reminiscent of billowing waves in the sea, was actually made of Liquid Acrylic Resin, which is also used in the hotel’s bathtubs, and thus continues the theme throughout the inside and outside of the rooms. The facade was created through the existing processes, with a dimension of 1.5×1.5m, and all the bathtubs were newly designed. Kim emphasizes that ‘this hotel highlights not only its interior design, but the architectural element of space’.
A Meticulous Approach
If interior design focuses on colours and textures that are actually visible to the human eye, the architect’s role is to approach planes and lines on a three-dimensional basis. He may studiously observe the materials for the exterior, but completely ignore those for the interior. The Snow Hotel, recently built in Yeoksam-dong, is a product of the architect’s painstaking attention to building materials. The architect was pulled into the project, when the construction designer, who had specialized in interior design, had already managed the project up to its frame construction. Some of the difficulties involved were that the mass of the building had been cut up at strange angles by the overcrowded city, and came with strange floors that all had a shape of their own. Yoon Geunju and Hwang Junghwan of 1990 urban architecture office designed various guest rooms of different forms, using similar materials. For the architect, who must interpret the context of the building site, the interior of the building is an entirely new architecture in its own making. The only difference here is in the scale and finer details. Hwang Junghwan says that ‘in this project, details were everything, and continued the beginning to the end to tie the whole thing together’. Unlike conventional architecture, the details present within this hotel are not merely about how well or neatly the materials are bound together, but the driving force of design itself. Where different neighbouring materials meet, there sprang the possibility for new design, and at times it provided the defining flair for the entire area. He explains that ‘all materials possess their own unique properties, and it is in the details that these are revealed. Details that highlight their uniqueness will look different from other materials, and such specialness become the spice of the project itself’. This can be observed in each guest room, wherein each detail stemming from a single material is adapted to create rooms of diverse styles.
As for the lobby, or the restaurant in the mid-level of the building, the limitations of the structures were spatially resolved. The colours and tones were matched, and the materials of the floors were made to continuously flow, so as to create a sustained feeling of space. As for the guest rooms, each one is extended with the use of various design languages. One guest room, for example, has used tiny tiles to cover not just the bathroom, but the entire bedroom, and out onto the balcony and outer walls as well. The materials that form the floors stretch on to the walls and closets, so that the walls become the ceiling and the floors reflect the ceiling. Conversely, the exterior materials of the balcony may cover the interior walls, and even coat the entire room. In fact, the pattern on the floor and ceiling of the first floor lobby floods all the surface areas.floors, walls and ceilings.of the penthouse at the top of the building. Yoon says that ‘the way in which individuals are connected to society are the same way in which interior designs form space through the interior and exterior’.
Likewise, the Bathtel’s details are striking. The walls separating the bedrooms and bathrooms are struck down to heighten a sense of openness, and the bathtubs are individualized in each of the 39 rooms by their form and colour. To suit the varying ambience of each room, the wallpapers, furniture and fabrics have been matched. Bathrooms in Pure Crystal also rejected existing, manufactured products, and are instead filled with products created by the designer himself, right down to the lighting. In fact, every inch of the room was thoughtfully constructed, down to a 5.10cm scale, and in so doing he has created the biggest contrast with the dozens of other rooms within the Hotel the Designers, which merely changed the existing walls, furniture and design.
The Snow Hotel can be observed in each guest room, wherein each detail stemming from a single material is adapted to create rooms of diverse styles.
The Pure Crystal, the room is an L-shaped plane, wherein the bed, sofa, table, bathtub, washroom and toilet are all aligned in order. While the walls and layers divide and expand space, the translucent material maintains a visual continuity.
A Strategic Approach
Because of the rise in demand for small and stylish hotels in the city centre, opportunities for architects have naturally increased. If architects better their understanding of spatial approaches, materials and the importance of details, this will connect the interior to the exterior and improve the overall quality quality of the final product. At one point in the past, young architects just starting out often began with interior design, as opposed to large architectural projects, because they were smaller and therefore easier to manage. Lim Seungmo gained the opportunity to create Pure Crystal through an architectural competition in 2012. For Lim, now working at an architectural firm, the interior design of a small guest room is within his time and means. Many young architects compete and win various architectural competitions, but many of them end up with frustrated plans. ‘I participated in more than a dozen competitions, but wanted to compete in something that would actually lead to a real life project’, he says. Through this project, Lim has even won the project to design a room in a soon to open hotel in Incheon.
In the same way, established architects must also pay greater attention to interior design, and in particular to hotels, because it will result in a much higher quality product overall. A single design language can connect the interior to the exterior, and even provide a greater understanding of the hidden structures and facilities of the building. This would also enable the architect to become the project manager, and engage in the planning, consulting, operation, architecture, and interior of the whole project. This is the reason that architects now use study management, materials, and even details as well. It is no longer a simple task of designing a hotel, but the overall strategy itself. Especially if the rise in demand is a temporary trend, and supplies are soon to saturate the market soon, then the business aspect of this will become all that much more important. Kim Jongho argues that ‘in consideration of the changes in programme to come, guest rooms should be at least 30m2 in size, locations should be chosen in relation to their projected demands and profits, and food and beverages, or common areas, should be created with panache’, and that ‘architects must consider not only the physical space of buildings, but also the service’s line of movement, location, customer base, and even management strategy’.
Image Courtesy of Design Studio
The Bathtel, the exterior of facade of the building, reminiscent of billowing waves in the sea, os actually made of Liquid Acrylic Resin, which is also used in the hotel's bathtubs, and thus continue the theme throughout the inside and outside of the rooms.