David Baker Architects

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February 2019: Community-Based Hospitality


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The Harmon Guest House opened in Healdsburg in 2018. Image: Bruce Damonte

February 2019

Here at David Baker Architects, one of the strategies that we use when designing a space derives from a fundamental belief that “it’s all about the people.” And we have been inspired in many ways by Sambo Mockbee, a design visionary and educator who insisted that architects must “not lose sight of the fact that people and place matter." Mockbee, creator of the Rural Studio, believed that a building, whether a chapel or affordable housing—or a hotel— must respond to the people and place that it serves.

In our hospitality practice, we draw from the rich context—from the townspeople, history, and culture—of the place to design a hotel that aligns with the spirit of the community. We feel that the entire holistic design of a hotel—from the conceptual idea to the approval process to how it finally operates—should strive to not only benefit guests but to enhance and support the town and foster community and local engagement.

With what we call community-based hospitality, DBA’s approach to boutique hotel design includes large-scale strategies of urban design and environmental sustainability as well as a range of more intimate moves and details that honor people and place.

Hotel Healdsburg, the first of our community-based hotels, has a public entry court to add open space to the town. Image: Cesar Rubio

Community-Facing Design

Hotels generally land somewhere on a range between inward-facing—a walled-off, reclusive getaway—and outward-facing—an often urban, community-connected experience. Both have their role, but generally, our community-based-hospitality approach leans far toward the outward-facing strategy.

While we include significant amenity spaces for guests to relax and recharge, we design our hotels to open outward toward the neighborhood and to create a connection between guests and locals. We offer public courtyards, plazas, and gardens to provide guests with a place to soak up the sun and fresh air, but ensure that these outdoor spaces also benefit the community and enliven and enrich the urban fabric of the town.

Hotel Healdsburg’s lush gardens surround a publically-accessible courtyard and lawn.

Thoughtful, petite retail spaces are more accessible and appealing to small, local retailers. Image: Piazza Hospitality

Similarly, we design lobbies to be welcoming spaces for hotel guests as well as inviting nearby residents in to meet, gather, or work. In between the rushes of check-in and check-out and before the evening bustle of the bar, mid-day lobbies can often feel sleepy. Providing co-working space for local freelancers or other ways for creative people to work on site or to grab a coffee together activates the lobby, energizing the space throughout the day. Often, we design the lobby to quite literally open out onto the streetscape or to outdoor spaces using large sliding- or folding-door systems that blur the lines between inside and outside, hotel and town.

To develop a new place that remains authentic to a town’s roots, we design any retail spaces adjacent or related to the hotel to be smaller than average so they will be more accessible and appealing to small, local retailers rather than larger brands, which often come in from outside. If the retail spaces can be integrated into the lobby and other common areas of the hotel, that’s better yet.

The entire length of h2hotel’s frontage opens to the streetscape, activating the sidewalk with bustling festivities. Image: Bruce Damonte

A large part of being able to accomplish community-based hospitality is the mindset of the hotel developers and managers. Piazza Hospitality, one of DBA’s long-time collaborators, is particularly dedicated to becoming immersed in and committed to the communities that their hotels serve.

In all of the hotels we have designed with Piazza—Hotel Healdsburg, h2hotel, and Harmon Guest House—there are conference rooms that provide guests and businesses a space to hold meetings or events. Piazza has made it a point to allow local nonprofits and organizations to use these meeting rooms at no fee when they are available, creating de facto community spaces for the town.

At the upcoming Hotel Sebastopol—our current collaboration with Piazza—we have added studios to the ground floor to provide local artists and creative makers low-rent spaces, which will strengthen and stabilize the local art culture rather than contributing to rising rents that force artists out. We have also developed parklets along the hotel frontage that will be available as vendor booths for the town’s farmers market each Saturday.

Harmon Guest House has the only rooftop bar in Healdsburg open to the public, inviting the local folks and town visitors into the casual yet refined space to enjoy along with hotel guests, with views of Fitch Mountain and the Sonoma hills. Image: Bruce Damonte

Local Art, Local Character

The simplest and most direct way to support a community is to support the people and the work of that community. Using the products and services of local artists, makers, vendors, and builders truly ties the hotel to the place and provides the townspeople an opportunity to create it together.

The vision and handiwork of local artists bring the personality of a place into a hotel. But beyond the interior artwork, we encourage each hotelier to extend the art program to the exterior as well, to share public art with the people in the area. We commissioned Ned Kahn, a Sebastopol native and world-renowned artist, for a large kinetic sculpture at Hotel Sebastopol. We worked with him from the very beginning of development to conceive a work that is uniquely “Sebastopol” and that will be visible and enjoyable from the town plaza.

Guests take a spin on the complementary H2Hotel bikes. Image: Bruce Damonte

Public sculpture along the streetfront of Harmon Guest House gives art to the community. Andy Vogt uses salvaged hardwood lath boards from the Victorian houses to create two-dimensional Escher-like “drawings” that appear three-dimensional. Image: Bruce Damonte

For h2hotel, we had SkLO in Healdsburg create hand-blown glass objects and commissioned Bohemian Stoneworks in Sebastopol to cast custom concrete sinks and fountains. We used wood flooring made from fallen trees salvaged after the 2017 Tubbs Fire. We had quilted headboards, hand-loomed textiles, and fire-glazed tile custom made specifically for the site by local purveyors, and it all adds up to a true sense of place. We could go on and on about all of the citizens that took part in making each of these hotels—they were built from the hands and hearts of the people.

Once construction is complete and the building transitions to operation, the next step is to use local programming, like the farmers market in Sebastopol, to actively engage in the daily life of the town. Having the concierge and staff learn about, share, and boost local spots helps guests get out into the world and experience the locale. Piazza offers custom illustrated bike and hiking maps and provides picturesque fleets of complimentary cruising bicycles to help guests venture afield—adding fun and subtracting traffic from the busy tourist-town streets.

Harmon’s custom reception desk is built by Pacassa Studio from a locally salvaged deadfall eucalyptus tree. Local artist Sabine Reckewell’s bright, flowing, three-dimensional sculptures create a welcoming vibe in the hotel’s lobby. Image: Bruce Damonte

A courtyard beer-garden, fire pit, green roof, and public art by local artist Ned Kahn were all ideas generated at our community meetings and are being integrated into the plans for Hotel Sebastopol. Image: David Baker Architects

Listen First

When a developer has their eye on a site, particularly in a small town, locals often feel concerned about losing the character of their town or city. We have found that our experience with community outreach for our affordable housing work has been a real help with the sometimes-contentious process of building hotels.

The key—with both affordable housing and boutique hotels—is to start working with the community as early as possible. Listen to the public’s needs and concerns carefully, and incorporate them into the design and programming. Not only does this help create a building that the community can be excited about, but it also makes the project better, because you are getting information and ideas from the people who know the place best.

After feedback from the community, the initial design of H2hotel’s initial design was refined to better fit into the town’s character, with a soft materials palette including lime plaster in warm colors, weathered steel, lush vines, and a flowing roofline. Image: Bruce Damonte

In one of our most recent hotel workshops with the small California town, a resident expressed concern that there was no reasonably priced accomodation for when a friend or family member visited from out of town. She suggested adding a hostel along with hotel, and this idea resonated with other locals as well. Our clients had never heard of a hostel inside a hotel, but they decided to give it a try. So, within the hotel, we designed a separately-branded hostel with about two dozen bunks and its own common spaces targeted towards single travelers visiting locals, bicycle tours, and young friend groups. The hoteliers are now super excited about this new program in their hotel, which would have never come about without listening first.

Patiently engaging in outreach will surely take more effort for the development team, but this kind of interactive process can make it much more likely that the proposed building will be welcomed and supported by its neighbors. And the result is a hotel that is of and for its place. For a more detailed look into our process, take a look at Community Engagement: Hotel Sebastopol.

Think Beyond the Property Line

Beyond the design of the hotel’s building, we take great care with how the building interacts with the broader urban fabric of the town, as well as how the surrounding streetscape and infrastructure affects the public. It’s important to respect the town's scale and grain when designing the hotel massing. We vary the heights and scale of the building masses to step down from the denser, taller centers of the city to a smaller-scale, single-story context.

The prominent corner building of Hotel Sebastopol harmonizes with the agricultural character of the small farm town while also providing a public plaza, generous sidewalks, and a band of bioswales and parklets that create a buffer between the busy street and pedestrians. Image: David Baker Architects

But, while we must respect the existing character of a place, it’s also vital to help push the City forward toward better planning practices, such as adding or upgrading pedestrian improvements and cycling infrastructure. Generous sidewalks, bulbouts, and street plantings create a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape for both the town and the hotel. At Hotel Sebastopol, we added parklets and bioswales along the busy streets to provide a separation between cars and people and to provide vendor spaces for the town farmers market on weekends. This gives the hotel guests a fun activity each Saturday and supports the locals with business at their market booths.

Piazza Hospitality allows local nonprofits and organizations to use their meeting rooms and event spaces, creating de facto community centers for the town. Image: Bruce Damonte

Become a Community Member

Making a hotel authentic and unique to its destination is a popular trend in hospitality right now, and it’s certainly an honorable goal. Designing a hotel’s decor to feel like its locale is one thing, but community-based hospitality takes this notion an important step further, to deeply care about that place and work to better it alongside its citizens. We encourage hotel operators and their staff to become active members of that community and get involved in local efforts and events.

We learned this firsthand from our long-time collaborators Paolo Petrone and Circe Sher of Piazza Hospitality. In their town of Healdsburg, where Circe lives, Piazza’s hotels provide space for cultural events and attractions like the Hand Fan Museum, permanently located in h2hotel and open to the public. They host public concerts of local musicians at Harmon Guest House, organize and participate in fundraisers, and join community initiatives. They have launched an Elevated Talks event series at Harmon Guest House, and are following that shortly with yoga and wellness programming open to all. 

The Hand Fan Museum, permanently located in h2hotel and open to the public, is an example of becoming involved in the local community by providing space for cultural events and attractions and joining a community initiative.

For Hotel Sebastopol, we are working with a local committee to create public art as a tribute to Sonoma County farm workers. In 2017, during the Tubbs Fire that devastated the Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties in northern California, Piazza opened their hotels as accommodations for first responders as they provided aid during the emergency. In response to that event, the 2014 South Napa Earthquake, and numerous recent California disasters, we are designing Hotel Sebastopol to be prepared as a shelter in instances of natural disaster to increase community resilience.

Environmental Stewardship

From both a local and global perspective, hotels must acknowledge how the hospitality and travel industries affect our environment and communities. Buildings, in particular, account for nearly 40% of CO2 emissions. And there is a consistent demand from guests that hotels become more sustainable. All of DBA’s hotels have achieved LEED Gold certification or higher. But beyond our standard sustainable building practices, we also always seek to undertake at least one green initiative that is sparked by the local community.

For example, concurrent with the development of Harmon Guest House, the 2011-2017 California drought was wreaking havoc on water supply. The people of Healdsburg were working hard on water conservation, and in that spirit, we integrated a rainwater collection system into the roof of Harmon Guest House that provided 100% of the site’s planting irrigation.

And as for local animals...let’s take care of them too! At Harmon Guest House, we worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to restore the riparian habitat of Foss Creek, which runs through the back of the property. We removed the invasive plant species from the streambed while preserving the native vegetation and protecting the wildlife, including the endangered Rainbow Trout, Coho and Chinook Salmon, and the Western Pond Turtle. Traveling across a custom bridge, guests can now relax in a secluded, creekside park overlooking the restored habitat.

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A complementary suite of sustainable and resilience strategies add up to a healthy and respectful place and a pending LEED Gold certification. Image: David Baker Architects

We work to harmonize the needs of a hotel with the need for innovative, sustainable solutions. We strive to incorporate wastewater heat recovery to heat domestic hot water and greywater reuse systems to recycle shower water to flush toilets. Hotel Sebastopol, in particular, will be fully electric and—by using a robust solar PV array and substantial energy reduction—has an ambitious goal to achieve Zero Net Energy. It will be California’s first ZNE hotel!

Beyond energy consumption, though, we strive to make healthier hotels, for both guests and locals alike by reducing indoor air pollution, ensuring clean water, promoting healthy eating, and providing adequate natural daylighting—all critical initiatives in designing and operating healthy hotels.

 

Hotel Sebastopol’s robust planned solar PV array positions the hotel to be California’s first Zero Net Energy hotel. Image: David Baker Architects

Overall, DBA’s concept of community-based hospitality strives to create boutique hotels that benefit not just the people they serve, but the community as a whole. It isn’t enough to simply design hotels to mimic the locale. I urge hoteliers to engage with the public, honor the people and the place, and create hotels that foster community.

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Brett Randall Jones, AIA, LEED AP, is an Associate of David Baker Architects and DBA’s Hospitality Lead. You can contact him here.

The Harmon Guest House opened in Healdsburg in 2018. Image: Bruce Damonte

Hotel Healdsburg, the first of our community-based hotels, has a public entry court to add open space to the town. Image: Cesar Rubio

The Hotel Healdsburg's ground floor is lined with inviting restaurant and retail spaces facing the town plaza. Image: Piazza Hospitality

Thoughtful, petite retail spaces are more accessible and appealing to small, local retailers. Image: Piazza Hospitality

Hotel Healdsburg’s lush gardens surround a publically-accessible courtyard and lawn.

Harmon Guest House has the only rooftop bar in Healdsburg open to the public, inviting the local folks and town visitors into the casual yet refined space to enjoy along with hotel guests, with views of Fitch Mountain and the Sonoma hills. Image: Bruce Damonte

Harmon’s custom reception desk is built by Pacassa Studio from a locally salvaged deadfall eucalyptus tree. Local artist Sabine Reckewell’s bright, flowing, three-dimensional sculptures create a welcoming vibe in the hotel’s lobby. Image: Bruce Damonte

Public sculpture along the streetfront of Harmon Guest House gives art to the community. Andy Vogt uses salvaged hardwood lath boards from the Victorian houses to create two-dimensional Escher-like “drawings” that appear three-dimensional. Image: Bruce Damonte

Guests take a spin on the complementary H2Hotel bikes. Image: Bruce Damonte

After feedback from the community, the initial design of H2hotel’s initial design was refined to better fit into the town’s character, with a soft materials palette including lime plaster in warm colors, weathered steel, lush vines, and a flowing roofline. Image: Bruce Damonte

A courtyard beer-garden, fire pit, green roof, and public art by local artist Ned Kahn were all ideas generated at our community meetings and are being integrated into the plans for Hotel Sebastopol. Image: David Baker Architects

The prominent corner building of Hotel Sebastopol harmonizes with the agricultural character of the small farm town while also providing a public plaza, generous sidewalks, and a band of bioswales and parklets that create a buffer between the busy street and pedestrians. Image: David Baker Architects

The entire length of h2hotel’s frontage opens to the streetscape, activating the sidewalk with bustling festivities. Image: Bruce Damonte

Piazza Hospitality allows local nonprofits and organizations to use their meeting rooms and event spaces, creating de facto community centers for the town. Image: Bruce Damonte

The Hand Fan Museum, permanently located in h2hotel and open to the public, is an example of becoming involved in the local community by providing space for cultural events and attractions and joining a community initiative.

A complementary suite of sustainable and resilience strategies add up to a healthy and respectful place and a pending LEED Gold certification. Image: David Baker Architects

Hotel Sebastopol’s robust planned solar PV array positions the hotel to be California’s first Zero Net Energy hotel. Image: David Baker Architects