by Harry Wheeler
Placemaking is a people-centered approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It leverages the local community’s strengths, potential and inspiration with the goal to create spaces that encourage health, happiness and well-being. In the hospitality industry, we use this design strategy to create social and intimate settings and environments that cultivate guest experiences and foster connection. In today’s world where travelers crave unique properties that celebrate their place in the world, placemaking allows us to effectively connect guests with their surroundings.
Placemaking starts with a collection of ideas inspired by the broader community. Here are a few main factors to ensure the approach is successful: location/access, identity/theme, authenticity/identifiers, and planning and programming for a variety of people. The design narrative is crafted using local inspiration and typically focuses on a common theme. It’s critical to consider the area’s history, culture and people.
Use elements of the neighborhood to inspire design choices. The key is to use subtle cues that draw inspiration from the surrounding area. Center on a color palette that plays up the local elements yet enhances the overall design of the property. Create “wow” moments that draw people in, cultivate connectivity and enhance the guest experience.
Select accessories that create a “sense of place.” Hand pick local artwork that tells a story and reflects the neighborhood. Use pops of color, select unique fabrics, and install funky accent lighting that play up the local area. Partner with local wineries or breweries to offer free tastings nights. Remember all the five senses when striving to wow guests!
As an example, located in the heart of Boston’s theater district and infused with energy, drama and character, the Moxy Boston Downtown has set the stage for travelers looking for an extraordinary experience. The 340-room hotel opened in October 2019. The building draws attention with its alluring sloped glass exterior inspired by a stage curtain. Peekaboo sidewalk displays line the hotel’s exterior, offering a view of costumed mannequins tempting anyone walking by to stop and take a photo.
The lobby has an energetic, backstage vibe enveloped by concrete walls and ceilings. The hotel interior mimics the “working theater,” and contrasts its raw materials with exposed lightbulbs to bathe the lobby in light, clever signage, and comfortable seating positioned throughout the area like a theater’s green room.
While making a quick stop by the check-in bar to grab their room keys, guests can enjoy a delicious signature cocktail on the house and take a selfie with graffiti wings. A wildly fun, all-nonsense lobby bar featuring a wood slat and mirror wall with integrated drink rail (inspired by ballet warm-up bars), large writing walls, a 56-inch projection TV, rooftop bar, and 24-hour grab-and-go marketplace add even more to the Downtown Boston experience.
The guestrooms are minimalistic, loft-inspired rooms with ultra-modern furnishings featuring 10-foot, floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Guests can choose room locations that are “Back Stage” or “Center Stage,” or that boast “River” or “Wicked Awesome” views. Here, in the guestroom, travelers have finally made it to their stage, a place where “We Make Our Own Fairytales,” as expressed on the pillows.
Throughout the property, Moxy Boston Downtown shows its urban influences with graffiti art by various local artists working closely with the design team and specialized Lichtenstein style pop art in the hotel’s meeting space ceiling that can be seen from street level. The story and energy of theater is told in every space throughout the hotel using curated materials and imagery reflective of the backstage vibe.
Today’s travelers desire to stay in places that are unique and shareworthy. Capitalizing on the cultural elements of the surrounding area, placemaking allows us to connect guests to the people they meet and the places they explore. In an area like Boston, where we have such a rich history and strong culture, we can use placemaking to create inspiring and exceptional properties that tell our stories and celebrate our place in the world.
Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners.