“Architecture is not an end in itself.”

In conversation with architect Daniel Schneider.

We are meeting Daniel Schneider from the architects Monoplan at the  “Trends in hotel design“ technical symposium in Hamburg, to discuss architecture, interior design, and branding. With an office in Zurich and a teaching position in Heilbronn as well as international projects, he could be said to be just passing through – next stop: Dubai and Oman. We discussed destinations, hotel concepts and marketing.

What role do you think an architect has in the success of hotels?

Architecture is a multi-functional discipline. On the one hand there is the functional level, in other words, architecture that does not work is a major impediment for a hotel. Architecture that does work – for the guests, for the operator, for the investor  – is a key element in successful projects. However, it should not be overstated and should always be relevant. In other words, architecture can be an important factor in positioning a hotel if it is to act as a ‘beacon’. However, it can also be an impediment if it does not have the same priorities as the hotel property.

Architect Daniel Schneider from the Zurich-based office Monoplan

The Bauhaus hotel “Haus des Volkes” in Probstzella is a unique hotel concept compared to many others we see today. Can it hold its own into the future?

It is a niche concept and these will exist. I believe niches can also be successful in the future. In other words, there are hotels for specific target groups in specific locations and the market will be fragmented. There will also be successful individual architectural sub-genres. However, I would probably not regard this house as a generally successful concept. But I believe this type of product can also be a successful segment. It is quite specific.

Branding and marketing – how do you include these in your conceptual work?

That is very important to us: architecture is not an end in itself. There may be projects,  architects  or even designs which are good enough in themselves or which emerge from themselves. The more important question for us is, who is the user, what is the purpose, what is the target group? In other words: how do I market and position my product, my hotel? And this results in an architectural language which meets the requirements – effectively from within. So, the architecture is ultimately a result of the use, the positioning, the marketing, the customer – not external factors. Not everyone does this but it is an important element for us and part of the success of our projects.

Daniel Schneider during his presentation in Hamburg

Do you have a favourite project from your portfolio?

There are so many exceptional examples. On the one hand there are chains of hotels that have already been discussed here, from those with several properties on the market, up to the major players such as Marriott. They obviously work hard on their USPs and also already have a strong image. But there are also smaller products which are possibly family businesses – or a quite small boutique chain which is still in the process of developing its USP and needs its ‘own DNA’ which we have to develop. But I must confess that I do not have one that I personally like the most. I am flexible and look at many projects, from the very small to the very large.

How do you approach new projects as a team?

There is more than one path to success. In principle, we always try to focus on the storyline or the main thread as well as the user and the intended use. In other words, our first thoughts are: Who is the guest? What does he or she want? What USPs or key features does he or she need? What are the possible trends in this area? We develop our main train of thought from these factors and build them into to the interior design and, in the best case scenario, into the architecture as well. Architecture can be part of the story. Then perhaps it is actually something that comes from the outside to the inside. But with hotels that is very rarely the case. The Elbe Philharmonic Hall is an exception. The whole product is determined by external factors, even the hotel rooms etc. But it’s usually the other way round, or at least it should be.

Storytelling is an enormous subject area. As is social media. There was a lot of discussion here today that the main drivers are not necessarily Instagram and the like but more the memories that stay with you forever. What do you think about that?

That is a lovely, almost romantic way of looking at it which, personally, I like. However, I fear that the digital world we live in and the speed at which we currently live unfortunately does not work like that. I believe our ability to service the digital mainstream and digital media and communications platforms is currently very important and will become even more important in the future. And, of course, memory is what you take with you. That is also the way it is portrayed in the digital world. We probably all have many photos on our smart phones, including private ones – it’s just more convenient that way today. And whatever is ‘convenient’ tends to win through.

Motel One, Zurich (Switzerland) )

Waldhotel Bürgenstock, Ennetbürgen (Switzerland)

The Dunloe, Killarney (Ireland)

What is a ‘convenient’ location for you? Where to you prefer to go on holiday?

That’s an interesting question – I am often asked that. I make very clear distinctions here: If I am away on business, I aim to spend every night in a different hotel and to see as many things as possible including visiting and testing out restaurants and bars. If I am taking a holiday for pleasure, I find it too stressful to change hotel every day. Instead, I look for locations with interesting geography. I look for an interesting town or country, in other words a destination, and then look for somewhere to spend some time – it’s location specific. On business trips I am mainly looking at products and how they work. On private trips, it ranges from the Stanglwirt spa in Austria to the Six Senses resort in Oman – or even just a hotel. If it’s somewhere interesting or beautiful, it’s all about the location and not the hotel.

What comes to mind when you think about lobby design? ?

It's a bit like giving a presentation. The first 15 seconds are the most important. Anyone who has given a presentation – at least at management level – knows that the very first impression, from saying hello or the formal greeting, is actually a ‘do or die’ moment. It’s quite difficult to recover from a bad start but it’s almost impossible to ruin a good one. The same is true of hotels. As I said before, I believe how I am greeted and the impression this gives me of the hotel is a decisive moment. If necessary, it is still possible to rescue the impression later but it takes a great deal of effort – but if I have done all the right things from the outset, this helps me to carry this positive flow into the hotel. This prelude, this start, is therefore very important – it has to be both functional and generate a ‘sense of arrival’. 

About architecture, interior design and branding

In conversation with Daniel Schneider
Senior Partner & Founder of the Monoplan architects

How would you summarise today’s technical symposium?

Technical symposia are always exciting. On the one hand, they always feel a bit like a school reunion as you see many familiar faces, colleagues, market players. The participants always make for a lively discussion. Sometimes, it’s a bit like an established circle of experts but it is nevertheless always exciting to hear what other people are doing, what products and innovations are out there – the exchange of information is also at a high level. Sometimes, you can miss having ‘Joe Normal’ there. His view on things would also be of interest, looking through the eyes of the user instead of the professional.

About Daniel Schneider

Daniel Schneider, Dipl.-Ing. Architect SIA, founded Monoplan in Zurich in 2008 together with Philip Wohlfarth. Today, Monoplan has over 40 architects, interior designers, graphic designers, draughtsmen, designers, developers, creatives and visionaries. Current reference sites in the hotel segment include Motel One Zurich and Basel, the Waldhotel Bürgenstock in Ennetbürgen, the Ruby in Zurich, the Grand Hotel Rhodania in Crans Montana, the Hotel Atlantis by Giardino and The Dunloe Killarney, Ireland. In addition to these commitments as an architect, Schneider also teaches at the Heilbronn University.

“Architecture can be an important factor in the positioning of a hotel.”

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