Expert’s Voice: How a resort architect designs for wellness

by | 25 Oct 2019 | Experts

The Dunes at Half Moon Bay is an eco-friendly, low-scale resort at the environmentally sensitive site.

Infusing resort and wellness design principles in all aspects of a project can boost revenue as guests spend more for health-enhancing offerings, writes HKS’ Don Harrier

There are design moves that are part of an architect’s DNA and biophilia is one of them. From bringing the outdoors into orienting buildings to maximize daylight and exquisite views, these have all become standard. For decades, resort designers have been crafting places that provide sanctuary and respite, calming the mind, soothing the soul, refreshing and rejuvenating the body.

Resort design inherently embodies health and wellness principles, and not just for guests. Designing in harmony and with regard for the natural environment and its limited resources is a significant design consideration.

Yet within the context of trends and the phenomenal growth of wellness destinations, how much influence can design have on our well-being? How can design go beyond what is now considered standard amenities – the spa, pool, treatment rooms and gym?

Wellness design is a subtle, whole-building strategy incorporating smart programming, systems and technology that people don’t see, but promote guest and hotel staff wellbeing just the same. Sustainability and wellness are baked into the design from the very start of a project and are investments that don’t shift with the latest health amenity or fitness trend. Here are several wellness design strategies to consider in the project’s predesign and concept development phase.

Sweet Dreams

Quality sleep is integral to good health, yet can be elusive when travel disrupts sleep schedules with time zone changes – or simply because you’re not sleeping in your own bed. A great mattress and bedding are important, but so is lighting design. Lighting systems that can be tuned to reinforce circadian rhythms and adjust travelers to the local time, alleviating jet lag, helps guests feel rested and energized from day one.

Something’s in the Air (and Water)

Thermal strategies such as humidification control, radiant heating and cooling and displacement ventilation enhance guest and hotel staff comfort. And according to an NRDC study, many cities in the U.S. rely on pre-World War I-era water delivery systems and treatment technology. Filtered air and water systems safeguard and improve two of our most vital human needs.
Sensory Overload. After a harried day of travel that can overwhelm the senses, guests often arrive at the hotel feeling the need to retreat and unwind. Enhanced acoustic design promotes a quiet ambience dampens exterior noise and helps guests relax and refresh.

It’s Second Nature

In-resort design, the location innately provides designers with opportunities to create connections to water, mountains, deserts and other idyllic natural landscapes. Design principles grounded in resort locations absolutely crossover to deliver an urban remedy: open-air communal lounge spaces, rooftop pool decks, and exterior guest room views. In urban wellness resorts, the integration of nature and the soothing effects of biophilia can be woven throughout public areas and private spaces with water features, a natural material palette, colors, textures, ambient sounds and smells, spatial patterns and lighting.

One Space Fits All

Designing communal indoor and outdoor multipurpose spaces to accommodate large or small group events and activities provides operators with options to deliver integrated programming, from a pop-up detox juice lounge to shared casual workspace, a curated meditation class or communal dinner.

Mind Your Materials

From flooring to wallcovering, by now, everyone knows that new carpet or paint smell is chemical off-gassing and isn’t healthy for the people installing it, or the people living with it. An informed selection of building systems, finishes, furnishings and individual products is fundamental to any wellness design process. Historically, material evaluation criteria included product durability, performance standards, recycled content, low or zero-VOCs and regional material sourcing.

But with public concern over increasing toxin exposure, cancer rates and climate change, designers specifying building products must consider their health impacts on both people and planet. Responsible product selection criteria includes evaluation of the product’s chemical content and environmental life-cycle impacts, and not just for the end-user: construction, cleaning and guest room products can be screened to reduce pathogens and pollutants.

On-Site Medical Facilities

This destination type combines luxury wellness therapies and non-invasive cosmetic procedures with medical tourism to create intensely private and securely designed destinations for patients seeking complete discretion. Full-service medical buildings include surgery and recovery suites that from the exterior, appear identical to the resort’s other buildings. These destinations house medical personnel, surgeons, anesthesiologists and nursing staff to ensure the guest-patient is cared for as if they were in a hospital or medical facility.

Design for Wellness Early

Regardless of whether a project pursues LEED, WELL, FitWel or any type of certification, at the beginning of programming and design, collaboration between the developer, operator and the consultant teams is crucial. Design charettes elevate project goals, allowing designers and consultants to evaluate options and technical systems at the macro- and micro-levels of operations to meet the overarching goal of enhancing the guest experience at any and all levels of stay.

Hotel developers and operators are competing for their share of an estimated global wellness economy valued $4.2 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute. As designers, infusing resort and wellness design principles in all aspects of a project delivers an authentic wellness destination for guests, while boosting revenue when guests spend more for health-enhancing offerings.

A thoughtful design approach that cares for people – not just guests, but the staff whose wellbeing is essential to providing a superlative guest experience – considers every occupant. Healthy buildings for guests, hotel staff, the environment and the bottom line is a well-being prescription for all.

Don Harrier

Don Harrier

HKS San Francisco Office & Hospitality Director

Don is a 35-year design industry veteran, including eight years as an owner’s representative. He is HKS’ San Francisco Office Director and co-director for the firm’s global hospitality practice.



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