Horses for (Building) Courses

  • Building Design Expert
  • 9 years ago

I recently returned from holiday in a sunny climb. Yes, had a great time thanks. Lots of feel good sunshine and time out of the office. But that’s not the point for this blog.

We stayed in a hotel. Where, is not particularly relevant. Save to say that it was big. Boy was it big. You could spend a good two to three hours just exploring all of its corners, and there were more than four!

It was just the journey from reception to my room that tipped me off: I first had a pleasant walk across reception, but then down the first of many ramps and through a bar. This was to a family room, so why would I be routed through a bar? Anyway, this was just the start of the journey. Once through the long bar space, through some double doors and into an artificially lit stairwell. Now it wasn’t quite a utility stair, but the words “back stair” instantly sprang to mind. So much so that I immediately questioned whether we were actually on the right track. We pressed on, as there was no other track. The hotel reception was on what amounted to an upper ground floor level, and our accommodation was at a lower ground floor level – poolside. Great, lead on.

At the bottom of the stairs we found what looked like an internal fire escape door from the oriental themed restaurant, the back door to what could have been a goods lift, and a pair of double swing timber clad doors that would not have looked out of place leading from the above said restaurant into its kitchen. The doors provided the only viable option, so we continued. Through the doors, remembering we had just arrived so we had silly amounts of bags and stuff, there was a very awkward right turn into a narrow corridor, which led down a ramp to another fire door; fortunately this one was glazed, and we could see what looked to be a promising way ahead. Through the fire door and down another ramped corridor we were on the home stretch, as it turned out. Having found our room, I was beginning to wonder how easy, or otherwise it was going to be to find anything else?

So it turned out that there were similar convoluted routes to the gym, the spa and the variety themed restaurants. The question immediately arose that whomever was responsible for the space and layout planning didn’t quite understand that particular design specialism.

‘Layouting’ is not particularly hard for someone who does it all the time. Like most things really. Give the job to somebody who is particularly good, but at something else, and we will all pay the price; some knowingly, and some who think there might be something awry but what the hell is it?

Suspicions raised, and never really off duty, I looked a little closer at materials, and design details – as one does of course.

This hotel was masquerading as a five star solution to tourist accommodation within the Eastern Block, and it’s true to say that from a distance it was most impressive. But don’t get too close.

A little detective work revealed that credit for the design and the build had been given to what appeared to be the main contractor. I say ‘appeared” as clearly the names were not any I would come across in the UK. However, this gave currency to the thought process that put ‘Build and Design’ ahead of ‘Design and Build’.

Sometimes the former option can be unavoidable, to a degree. But, with the assistance of a ‘Professional’ design team, any and all obstacles can be over-come. The visual evidence tended to suggest otherwise. It struck me that the lack of a pre-construction ground investigation might have been the cause that generated a endless number of random ramps, coupled with stairs; – so no homage to some Eastern European DDA then.

If, as they say, the proof is all in the eating, then this is a real pudding of a building. To the majority of the guests it will have appeared poorly laid out and just plain difficult to use, with the emphasis on the gloss of the well lit granite and marble finishes in the public areas coupled with some impressive ceiling heights to create the ‘wow’ factor and a distraction from the endless corridors that would eventually lead to somewhere; you were just never sure where. Spaces that gave no priority to use.

It was as though the ‘designer’ had come across a huge cupboard full of random architectural left-overs, and made the decision that they would make a great building – a sort of architectural ‘bubble ‘n’ squeak. The only other ingredients were some materials, a large piece of land and presumably an undiscerning client who was happy to part with a huge amount of money. What was missing was any form of concept firmly anchored to a brief.

Great buildings, can be like a great book. Go through the main entrance and start at page one, and you will find the start of a gripping story, a logical progression that might offer some interesting twists and turns. It takes you on a journey that has a main plot supported by numerous sub-plots. Some main spaces supported by numerous ancillary spaces. But all of them work together to ensure that the overall experience in use is seamless journey for the user or indeed the reader.

The great and the good of architectural design provide a cohesive mix of well thought out spaces that are intelligently linked in a practical and visually superior way. Our hotel was the product of a half baked idea supported by a series of architectural design after-thoughts. It does its job, but like an unwilling apprentice, just not very well.

If I am right, this was a major construction contract – ‘with contractor’s design’. The greatest drawback was that the contractor looks to have designed it all. If I am wrong, this was a bad building design competently executed. One way or another it was a mis-match of the two normally complimentary processes that are the Design and the Build. An extreme example that underlines that there are separate professions and disciplines for a reason, and we need to stick to what we do best – Horses for (Building) Courses.