Estimated reading time: 4 min

Old Hotels, New Ideas

The oldest continually-running hotel in the world (according to the experts at Guinness World Records) opened its doors in the year 705. For as long as people have had the opportunity and means to travel, they have required somewhere along the road to rest. As time has gone on, what may have once been the height of contemporary hospitality design is now at best vintage and at worst unsightly and outdated.

For many hotels, changing locale when a property is not environmentally sustainable is not a possibility. Hotels build their reputation in a specific building or location and to relocate could have a significant financial impact on a company (and build a hotel from scratch itself is a costly endeavor). As a result, hotels often find themselves at the whims of ageing properties when it comes to sustainability.

The hospitality industry has attempted to respond to this by introducing a variety of sustainable practices within their business models. Hotels have been ditching plastic room keys in favour of wood or paper, stocking restaurants with local produce, introducing water fountains and filters as alternatives to plastic bottled water and improving their approaches to waste management. However, these changes do not address the larger issues of energy consumption and sustainability throughout hotels themselves.

Two residential towers covered with trees

Hotel refurbishment is the latest design service to address the struggles of sustainability in the hospitality industry and we take a look at the reasons why it is so essential below:

1. Construction Is Not So Sustainable

Building and construction contribute to almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Refurbishment has a smaller carbon footprint than rebuilding or constructing from scratch because a structure already exists and thus requires fewer materials. The embodied carbon impact (carbon dioxide produced in the construction and transportation of materials, as well as the construction process itself) is lessened in a refurbishment project.

2. Old Buildings Can Be Beautiful

Old buildings have a certain aesthetic that makes them very attractive as hotels. Whether Victorian Gothic or Art Nouveau, these buildings posses a very particular beauty. Yet, unfortunately, there are many sustainability concerns with older buildings; they are difficult to heat, they often have poor ventilation and their energy and water consumption tends to far exceed that of contemporary developments. Yet to knock these buildings down and start again would be to erase landmarks and monuments of local communities. By refurbishing hotels rather than rebuilding them, we can improve their sustainability without losing the beauty of the structures.

3. Façade Design Does The Job

Contrary to the previous point, not all older buildings are beautiful. In some cases, they can be truly heinous. A drab building with a poor sustainability track-record may appear to be an obvious candidate for demolition, yet rebuilding incurs significant costs. Refurbishing the building envelope can improve energy consumption, ventilation, heating capabilities, and lighting as well as improving the overall aesthetic while keeping costs and embodied carbon impact down; a breath of fresh air all-round!

4. Demolition and Derelict Grounds

Refurbishment is unlikely to make a building as environmentally sustainable as a new build but that does not mean that demolition is without its flaws. In the UK a shocking 54% of Previously Developed Land (PDL) and brownfield sites remain derelict. If demolition leads to an excess of under-utilised sites and encourages construction on undeveloped greenbelt land, then refurbishment discourages development in greenbelt areas while reducing the trend towards abandoning demolition sites. How does this relate to sustainability? It protects untouched natural environments and encourages the good practice of reusing and recycling properties (a practice taught in schools and yet not always carried on into the workplace).

5. The Transport Test

With the scale of some hotel developments, building on a new site requires the creation of new transportation links, both for the construction team during development and for staff and guests once the building is in use. The theory of Induced Demand would imply that the creation of additional roads, even to access a new development, would increase the number of cars on the road. More cars, means more CO2 emissions, resulting in a less sustainable project. Likewise, the creation of these new transport links has its own environmental impact in itself.

6. Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

So far this break-down has focused on refurbishing buildings that are already purposed as hotels which does a disservice to one of the most sustainable features of hotel refurbishment; building repurposing. As any diligent schoolchild can tell you, the three pillars of sustainability are “reduce, reuse and recycle” and building repurposing tackles all three. Repurpose is synonymous with recycling; repurposing an office block into a hotel, for example, reduces the need for building demolition and thus reduces the amount of waste produced in building construction. Reusing a building and altering its functionality lessens the need for new-builds and with fewer construction materials required, the embodied carbon impact is reduced.

“Today, developers are rediscovering the value in renovation and refurbishment”

Robert Jenrik MPUK Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Hotel refurbishment is not a new concept, yet its modern applications should not be ignored. New technologies and materials mean that buildings can be renewed with low financial and environmental costs. From hotels to hospitals we are seeing a larger trend of renovation across sectors. Sustainability has made its way to the forefront of global discussion and developments need to reflect this. From the concept design to construction to a building’s opening, sustainability should be the focus, not the footnote.