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Spotlight on: 'healthy' architecture

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Increasingly popular, the design ethos of healthy architecture is appearing in hotels via retrofit measures and biophilic design. Click. explores the potential benefits of the trend

Already a firmly-established trend in wider design circles, healthy architecture is now a key consideration in the hospitality world.

The term relates to buildings whose exterior and interior design is deliberately more harmonious with nature. Such structures have been shown to lead to happier, more relaxed occupants, and also offer increased sustainability – a key concern as global warming worsens.

While the trend covers new-builds, it also spans existing buildings via changes such as ‘daylighting’ – allowing increased light to save on electrical lighting – or the reduction of high CO2 levels historically caused by poor ventilation.

Retrofit measures

So, what retrofit green measures can hotels undertake – and what are the costs and benefits involved? One tack is to concentrate only on strictly-necessary upgrades, and introduce the greenest-possible replacement. This is exemplified by The Bristol, found in its namesake city in southwest England.

The six-storey hotel first retired original 1960s boilers. “These oil-burners were nearing the end of their useful life,” explains Shelby King, part of The Bristol’s devoted ‘Green Team’. “So we replaced them with 95%-efficient gas-fired boilers which have also significantly reduced our energy bills.” They cost £200,000, King says, yet repaid that inside three years.

“Our old lifts also needed replacing,” he continues, “and part of the brief was to find the most energy-efficient solution, and to lower our operational and maintenance costs.” The resulting two lifts further help by generating electricity for the hotel. In addition to environmental and financial benefits, they bring a subtle promotional one, too: “The new lifts’ displays tell guests that these elevators use less energy than boiling a kettle,” adds King – “an interesting fact that guests remember.”

Better air, less noise

In Cyprus, recent green-building initiatives at the Columbia Beach Resort have again slashed energy consumption – typified by LED lighting installed – but also improved two other focus areas: generating a pronounced decrease in noise pollution, and creating a virtually CO2-free resort.

1 Hotel Guestroom
The most prevalent strand of biophilic design involves increased plants and greenery inside or beside buildings. Photo: credit to 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge


All of the resort’s new, large-scale machinery works to this end. Its new air-conditioning systems exemplify this: they are microbiologically-tested, designed to prevent dust accumulation and exceptionally quiet. While the primary motivation is environmental protection, books must be balanced, and director Stelios Kizis is confident that all this expense will translate to eventual gain.

“The upgrades have helped us to control costs so, in the long term, they will represent a significant saving. For instance, we can now monitor energy more closely and therefore budget better.” He also relates an indirect sales boost, as some guests have admitted that they booked in part due to the resort’s environmental principles.

The benefits of biophilic design

Closely linked to healthy architecture is the concept of biophilic design, the tenets of which state that humans benefit from a closer connection to nature. The most prevalent strand of biophilic design involves increased plants and greenery inside or beside buildings.

This approach is seen at airports – palm-tree gardens now neighbour Long Beach’s airport, and reflective panels and skylights atop Singapore Changi’s Terminal 3 evoke a rainforest canopy – and hotels. Small moss gardens are long a staple of 1 Hotel guestrooms, while northern England’s restyled Talbot has a restaurant where herb pots busily line sills and appear on tables: creating an exotic look and linking to the culinary experience at hand.

A similar approach – mixing the benefits of biophilic design with brand-messaging – is afoot at Hilton’s Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile. In 2017, the hotel repurposed its lobby atrium as the city’s ‘largest greenhouse’. Called the Sky Garden, it rotates over 1,000 bowls of fragrant herbs on various living walls.

“While we wanted a year-round patio setting,” outlines General Manager Kathy Heneghan, citing Chicago’s notorious windy climate, “the Sky Garden also allows guests to personally experience the hotel’s sustainability efforts. And, given the incorporation of the herbs in our F&B offerings, we’re showcasing our ‘direct-to-fork’ principle.”

If these examples have one thing in common it’s that – despite an initial outlay – making a hotel healthier tends to lead to long-term benefits, including profit. Those perks shouldn’t be the primary consideration, but they certainly help encourage green-spirited changes.


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Hero image: credit to Hyatt Regency Amsterdam
  • Healthy architecture, which involves interior and exterior design become more harmonious with nature, is a design principle reckoned to make occupiers of buildings happier while offering increased sustainability
  • Retrofit measures for hotels to consider involve replacing machinery such as boilers or lifts for more energy-efficient versions, decreasing CO2 emissions and reducing noise pollution
  • Another approach is biophilic design, chiefly seen via the incorporation of calming greenery to lobbies, restaurants and bedrooms
  • As well as bringing about environmental benefits, such measures can subtly support brand messaging, attracted eco-concerned guests and deliver long-term profit