Thursday, July 03, 2008

Windowless hotel rooms?

After suffering poor quality hotels in Turkey and Greece and the relative comfort of the overnight train between the two, it makes me wonder why there are not budget hotels, even more basic than the Hotel Formule 1. Comfortable rooms could be provided at a low cost by replacing the windows with flat screen TVs.

In Melbourne, Accor have their excellent Hotel Formule 1 Melbourne CBD. This is in the center of the city at the end of the mall. On a business trip the usual hotels were full and I was put up in the F1 and found it very comfortable. From the street just a small door is visible (locked after hours and opened with the room card). The reception is upstairs and is tiny. The rooms are similarly small, but are clean. The rooms dispense with items the traveler will not need, such as a fridge and telephone.

The rooms are very quiet with double glazed windows which look thick enough to be bullet proof. Unlike fancy hotels where there always seems to be a staff member coming in to check the bar fridge, or put a mint on your pillow, here they you leave you alone. If you pay for the room when you arrive, you need not see, or talk to a staff member again. There is a DIY breakfast room, also equipped with a vending machine with toothpaste and the like.

It is surprising that more hotel chains or individual proprietors have not adopted this style of hotel. It could also be given an environmental angle for marketing. Most of the carpets could be dispensed with in the name of reducing material and cleaning chemical use (also to save the cost of cleaning the carpet). In countries where smoking is still permitted in hotels, it could be banned for the good of the customers (and to save cleaning costs). Similarly bar fridges could be dispensed with.

One additional way to make the hotels more environmental (and save costs) would be to eliminate windows from some, or all, the rooms. In many budget hotels the windows have poor views of dirty light wells, back alleys or into the rooms of the hotel opposite. Where the windows can be opened, they let in dust, smoke and traffic noise. It would make more sense to provide good quality mechanical ventilation and a large wide screen TV, in place of the window. This would allow rooms to be built up against the blank wall of the next building, or for the whole hotel to be built inside another building. This would greatly lower the cost of the hotel land and allow hotels to take up otherwise unusable locations. As a gimmick, when the hotel door was opened, the TV could be switched on to a CCTV picture from the roof, providing a virtual window on the view.

As well as making room placement more flexible, eliminating the window would make en suite rooms easier to design and make for a more efficient room layout. The most common hotel room design has the bathroom next to the door of the room. This is done so the opposite end of the room can have a window with a view. But the result is that a considerable part of the floor space is wasted with a corridor next to the bathroom to provide room access.

Without a window, the door and bathroom could be placed anywhere in the hotel room. A typical layout might be to have the door on one side at the foot of the bed and the bathroom in the end wall. This would eliminate the internal corridor and save several square meters of floor space. The one piece of floor space would be used for access to the room, access to the bathroom and circulation.

Assuming the room has a European Queen size bed (1.6 × 2 m), with 750mm clear space from bed to wall on each side and 900 mm (the width of a door) at the foot of the bed, making a room 3.1 x 2.9 m. The bathroom would be 1100 mm deep along the end of the room, making for a total of 3.1 x 4 m. A single room (900 × 2000 mm bed), with 900 mm access on only one side of the bed and the bathroom opposite, could be 2.9 x 2 m.

The hotel could also provide some very small budget rooms, like a compartment in a sleeper train. These would have only enough room to stand up next to the bed, plus luggage racks. To save more space the underside of the bed and the ceiling over it could be lowered to provide the space for the plumbing and air conditioning of adjacent rooms. Careful design could provide a better experience here than the average larger, but clumsy hotel room. It need not go to the extreme of the Japanese capsule hotel (カプセルホテル), but could have rooms similar to the StayOrange.com Hotel, Yotel the Pod Hotel, or citizenM. But rather than have a whole hotel of these, they could be placed to use otherwise unusable corners of the conventional hotel.

In addition temporary hotels could be quickly erected on spare building sites using Flat Packed Housing and modular building technology. When the land was needed for other purposes, the buildings would be shipped back to the factory for refurbishment and then re-erected elsewhere.

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