Suite Life: Biophilic design and the hospitality sector are a natural fit.
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Architectural Record
By Katharine Logan

In a post-occupancy case study of the Park Royal on Pickering, Terrapin’s researchers found examples of all 14 biophilic patterns, but identified four as predominant. “Visual Connection with Nature” (the extensive greenery, both outside and in) correlates strongly to lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved mental attentiveness and engagement, and positively affected attitude and overall happiness. “Biomorphic Forms and Patterns” (the abstracted landscape contours of layered precast concrete and interior curvilinear forms in wood) have been identified in some studies as a preferred view. “Risk/Peril” (cantilevered human-scale birdcages, perched at the end of narrow bridges and providing views of the city), when coupled with reliable safeguards, is associated with strong dopamine or pleasure responses. “Complexity and Order,” in which intricate geometric patterns provide rich sensory information adhering to a spatial hierarchy similar to that encountered in nature, appears in the hotel’s interior detailing (examples include a complex wood and metal lattice enclosing a spiral staircase, and wall, ceiling, and partition treatments consisting of thin slats of timber layered in a matrix); the pattern is associated with improved perceptual and physiological stress responses.

Another way of saying all this, of course, is that these patterns make the hotel’s guests feel better. And when guests feel better, they stay longer and come again.

Although “selling beds” is the main source of revenue for hotels, there are others: “It used to be that the hotel lobby was the living room of a community,” says Bill Browning, a partner at Terrapin. “Many of the brands are now rediscovering that lobbies can be fantastic social spaces and sources of additional revenue.” To investigate the role of biophilic design in that trend, Terrapin’s researchers monitored occupancy patterns in the lobbies of six Manhattan hotels, three of which had biophilic features. In the nonbiophilic lobbies, about 25 percent of users were making extended use of the lobby—buying food or drink, meeting people, working, or relaxing. In the biophilic lobbies, the proportion of extended users rose to 36 percent. In one of the biophilic hotels—one that had been designed deliberately to encourage extended lobby activities—they found that its users also included residents from the surrounding neighborhood. This provided additional revenue without the need to sell another bed.

Photo of the hotel and the adjacent park.


Extensive greenery that covers terraces and vertical fins on the facade of Marvel Architects’ 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge merges the building with the adjacent park.

One of the hotel brands in the lobby study, Starwood Capital Group’s 1 Hotel, has put biophilic design at the center of its identity. The hotel’s first ground-up new building, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, designed by Marvel Architects, with interior architecture by Incorporated, is scheduled to open in February 2017 at the edge of the East River across from Lower Manhattan.

The architecture of the 194-key-hotel/ 106-unit-condominium building makes these connections literally and figuratively. Extensive greenery on roofs and terraces integrates the building with Brooklyn Bridge Park. The terraces, together with building-height vertical fins, evoke eroded geological formations, a reference to the bluffs in this part of Brooklyn.

The architects use this concept to make a transition between the park in front and the established neighborhood close behind. “The idea was that the building would become embedded on the neighborhood side, and riff off the bluffs on the river side,” says Dennis Vermeulen, a director at New York–based Marvel. Connecting the neighborhood and park, four public passageways cut through the building. Always open, these portals include boulders, trees, plantings, and art, and are lined with yellow pine recycled from the warehouses that used to occupy the site. In creating these transition areas from the buzz of the city to the calm of the park, says Vermeulen, the architects wanted the public to feel that the building is part of the park, and part of their experience.

Rendering of a tissue public passageway.


Public passageways cut through the 1 Hotel building to tie the city in with Brooklyn Bridge Park and the waterfront.

The interior architecture continues the use of biophilic elements to connect guests to nature, and also to Brooklyn. “In the world of hospitality now, there’s an anticorporate, anti-brand approach to developing spaces,” says Adam Rolston, a partner at Incorporated, also based in New York. “People want an authentic experience that connects them to the place culturally, visually, and physically.”

One of the project’s primary interior design strategies is to use natural and highly tactile materials that are relevant to the locale, as well as those that reference natural processes. Drawing inspiration from the history of Brooklyn’s waterfront, the project uses salvaged and weathered woods throughout—as a ceiling treatment evocative of the former warehouses, as a lining for elevator cabs, and as millwork in guest rooms. Board-formed concrete complements the wood. Stone for a massive white granite stair in the lobby comes from the same quarry as the Brooklyn Bridge. Carpet patterns throughout the hotel are generated from photographic images of rusted-steel ship hulls and digitally printed onto the carpet. “Almost every material had to have some effect of weathering, oxidation, or being somehow wrought,” says Rolston. To elaborate the material connection to nature and place, Incorporated collaborated with local fabricators, inviting them to suggest materials and methods and allowing these suggestions to influence the development of the hotel’s aesthetic.

Photo of an interior guest room.


The interiors, designed by Incorporated, including the guest rooms, have rustic finishes, such as salvaged and weathered wood.

Starwood Capital had experience with incorporating natural materials into 1 Hotel’s two other locations. Waad El Hadidy, a designer with the company, predicts people will connect with the highly textured and narratively rich finishes of the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. “We get asked all the time, ‘What does this come from?’” she says. “Not only guests, but hotel staff too are genuinely interested. People are drawn to touch things that have a story.”

Katharine Logan is an architectural designer and a writer focusing on design, sustainability, and well-being.


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Originally published in Architectural Record