Hospitality Designers Speculate on the Future of Hotel Design

March 24, 2004

NEW YORK - Of all the elements that will reform hotel decor in the next two decades, designers predict that none will shape the guest's experience as significantly as technology.

As scientists continue to find new ways to infuse our daily lives with gizmos and gadgets, designers are turning up a plethora of ways to saturate the hotel room with technological innovations. From biometric safety features to electronic paint to bathrooms you can speak to, designers' ideas of what awaits hotel guests of the future are seemingly limitless.

"In terms of technology, it's probably going to have the greatest influence on design," said Ariane Steinbeck, senior vice president at The Getty's Group in Chicago. "[We have] the flat screen TV now in upper-end hotels; in 10 to 20 years, no one will know what a TV looks like. Everything will be wireless; the whole check in procedure as we know it may change from the front desk to something a doorman may have."

"When entering a guest room, you would not use a key or card entry, but enter through thumb print indentification or retinal scan," said Peter Van Wyk, a designer with London-based Hirsch Bedner Associates. "The minute you enter your room, based on your thumbprint, everything could change in the room: the ambient temperature and light settings, the TV could turn on and you'd view all your messages. These changes would be based on preferences you give when you registered and would be activated by the bio-identifier that you used to open the room door."

"There'll be programmable paint developed – paint that can change color or pattern," said Stanford Hughes, principal at Brayton & Hughes Design Studio in San Francisco. "Fabrics made of electronic diodes connected to a lens to view outside. Walls may not even be walls but internal projections. Keyboards don't even exist; it will be a projection on your dining room tray or wall."

As outlandish as such ideas may seem, their fruition may not be far off. In December, Esquire magazine reported that the U.S. Army and the New Jersey Institute of Technology were collaborating to create paint that self-repairs when it cracks and changes color at the push of a button. The article stated that scientists expected to unveil the first prototypes in 2005.

In the same issue, Esquire reported that a California-based electronics firm, Canesta, would release virtual computer keyboards to the commercial market early this year. The device, dubbed a Keyboard Perception Chipset, projects a laser image of a keyboard onto any flat surface and uses an infrared light to translate finger tapping into letters on a screen.

In June, Newsweek International reported that a burgeoning electronic textiles market would command between $100 million and $1 billion by 2006. Prototypes of fabrics that change color according to a room's temperature are in the works, and in 2003 a New York-based company called Sensatex launched a collection of electronic clothing for medical use.

Technological advances are also enabling guests to customize their hotel stays in uncannily creative ways. The Hilton Hotels Corporation is developing a "motif control" and oxygen ionizer via which guests can simulate the atmosphere of a rainforest, seashore or summer storm in Hilton hotel rooms.

"The key ideological shift is in letting the guest experience drive the technology instead of the other way around," states a Hilton Hotels report.

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