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Trends in Hotel Spa Design to Nurture Guest Health and Wellness

Hotel Executive Magazine - July 2023

Four Seasons New Orleans Guest Spa

As we steer out of the recent pandemic with a growing emphasis on meeting traveler’s health and wellness demands, the necessity for well-designed hotel environments of recreation and relaxation to restore and rejuvenate has become more apparent.

Several notable trends have emerged that influence the way hotel spas are conceptualized and designed to engage and arouse all of our senses.  The following explores some of these trends and their impact on how to design for the ultimate spa experience.

Screen Time vs Green Time

To counter the mental fatigue that results from modern life’s digital screen time, multitasking, and artificial lighting, one significant trend in spa design is the incorporation of the outdoors. Many spa-goers seek to fulfill their innate desire or tendency to commune with nature, also known as biophilia. Focusing on Nature’s capacity to delight and soothe allows us to recover faster and restore our attention by reducing fatigue. Learning from the rejuvenation provided by outdoor experiences informs spa design trends.

Shinrin yoku, for example, is the Japanese practice of forest bathing that allows oneself to observe nature by paying close attention to their surroundings. Connecting with nature separates us from our daily demands without judgement. Immersing oneself in wooded settings and not being sedentary reduces anxiety and depression. Field experiments conducted across Japan show that this engagement with nature allows the brain to relax, lowers blood pressure, and reduces obesity and the chance of diabetes.

Sensory Appeal

Designed spa offerings may be guided by the absorption of nature through our senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

In nature, the sense of vision is stimulated by the observance of the changing mosaic of the seasons, various colors, patterns and shapes of leaves, or the subtle tracking of a breeze’s movement by tall grasses, tree canopies and the water’s surface. Similarly, these visual cues can be integrated into the designed spa experience in both materials and patterns used and how guests navigate through the space.

Captured by our sense of hearing, nature offers the sound of the stream, bird song, wind through the trees and other unanticipated rhythms to find what is most pleasing to the individual. These may be experienced in real-time within a natural setting or played as subtle background recordings in select areas throughout the spa.

Four Seasons New Orleans Spa aromatherapy

For the sense of smell, cedar, oak, pine, and many other plants give off phytoncides that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities to help plants fight disease.  Breathing in this aroma while in the forest or in the form of wood essential oils at an indoor spa boosts our immunity.

Using our sense of taste to imbibe teas of natural herbs brings nature into our bodies. This may be done at a spa or by bringing a hot water thermos along for a guided forest walk to create tea of lavender, cedar or willow in situ.

Touching the various textures of a forest such as moss, bark, leaves, stone, and water provides a deeper connection with nature as we form memories through contact with our own skin. Attention should be paid to the tactile materials and surfaces used throughout the spa space to evoke similar feelings.

 To physically incorporate nature, modern spa designs often feature elements such as landscaped gardens, rooftop terraces, or open-air treatment rooms. These design choices create a serene and rejuvenating atmosphere, allowing guests to unwind in natural surroundings.

Spas are also increasingly being designed as holistic wellness destinations, providing services that cater not only to physical relaxation but also to mental and emotional well-being. This trend has led to the inclusion of meditation rooms, yoga studios, and sound bathing spaces. The acoustically designed sound bathing rooms allow for a different level of auditory experience.  The playing of singing crystal bowls and gongs is used to create a symphony of tones and vibrations to nurture and nourish the body through its response to high and low frequencies.

Sound baths differ from music in that has a beat and anticipated rhythm to allow the body to switch from the sympathetic nervous system state to the parasympathetic nervous system state. This slows the body down for healing by opening our seven Chakras through cleansing for balance and alignment. The varying frequencies stimulate each of the seven chakras; Root (base of the spine), Sacral (just below naval), Solar Plexus (stomach region), Heart (chest), Throat, Third Eye (center of forehead), and Crown (top of the head).

Emerging Trends in Spas

Another prominent trend in spa design is the integration of technology. While spas have traditionally been associated with tranquility and simplicity, advancements in technology have made their way into the industry through high-tech amenities such as hydrotherapy tubs, chromotherapy lighting, and immersive audio soundscape. These innovations enhance the spa experience, offering personalized treatments and creating a seamless environment for guests.

Furthermore, sustainability and eco-consciousness have become integral considerations in spa design. With a growing global awareness of environmental issues, spas are adopting sustainable practices and incorporating eco-friendly materials in their designs. This includes using renewable energy sources, employing water-saving technologies, and utilizing recycled or locally-sourced materials. The integration of green spaces, such as living walls or rooftop gardens, adds an eco-friendly touch to spa environments.

Designing Unique Spa Experiences

Discovering design opportunities by embracing and overcoming project constraints when executing health and wellness trends and strategies may result in unique and memorable guest experiences tied to place.

An urban example of this is The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences, New Orleans, along the Mississippi River at the foot of historic Canal Street. As project architects, we were challenged to re-use, re-design, and reinvent the mid-century World Trade Center building designed by modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, into a five-star luxury hotel. To meet the programmatic needs of the new hotel and residences, a five-story podium was designed to seamlessly integrate guest amenities. Not only does the new podium structure provide double-height event ballrooms (in contrast to the original tower’s existing floor to floor heights) but the five-story addition allowed for a new urban roofscape to be created that provides outdoor spa spaces for rejuvenation and recreation.

The design of the The Spa at Four Seasons was approached with an eye towards marrying state-of-the-art technology with a tranquil setting where guests are enveloped by natural elements to stimulate all of the senses. The tone of the cohesive spa design is set from the moment one enters the reception area on the fifth floor, greeted by the comforting natural finishes of stone and wood that complement the overall character of the hotel. The sensual double curved wood reception desk, softly washed by concealed lighting within its stone-capped counter surface and backed by a geometrically-patterned stone accent wall, greets guests as they enter. This sanctuary to recharge the mind, body and spirit is supported by programmed lighting to emphasize the materiality of the finishes while state-of-the-art designed ambient soundscape stimulates one’s hearing within the refuge. A biophilic-inspired design approach is used throughout the spa’s sequenced experience from the communal spaces to private treatment rooms.

Within the gendered communal spaces at the Spa at Four Seasons, open stone portals and wood slatted walls connect the changing areas, dry grooming, steam room, and cool down rest spaces.  The language of wood-slatting continues through men’s and women’s waiting lounges where refreshments provide a comforting ‘pre-treatment zone’. This leads to the passage for the acoustically-private treatment rooms. The passage contains wood pedestals featuring internally-lit lanterns with cut foliage-like patterns, telescoping light and shadows onto the stone doorframes and placed to identify the entrance of each treatment room.  The spirit and place of the passage is further enhanced by abstract artwork connecting back to nature.

In the treatment rooms, state-of-the art technologies allow for customized filtered lighting and individual soundscape selections. A full wall of millwork conceals all of the body healing arts accoutrements for the range of massage and bodywork, skincare, body treatments and wellness experiences offered. Within the millwork wall, a vanity of geometrically-patterned stone mimics stonework found elsewhere in the spa facility.

After a private treatment, a guest proceeds to the communal lounge of open wood-finished resting spaces where window treatments filter natural light and allow views of the expansive Mississippi River and New Orleans cityscape. This space leads to the outdoor lounge terrace of the new fifth floor roofscape. The overall spa is designed to be a continuous cleansing journey of varied experiences from the moment a guest enters to the time they depart, rejuvenated and recharged.

At this moment, spa design is witnessing several exciting trends that reflect the evolving demands of consumers and new assessment of the importance of health and wellness. The integration of nature, technology, wellness-focused elements, and sustainability are shaping the future of spas. Designed elements using timeless natural materials, soothing color schemes, ergonomic furniture, nature soundscapes, fragrances and filtered lighting all contribute to a calming ambiance to nurture overall wellness. As the pursuit of well-being and self-care continues to gain prominence, spa designs that incorporate these trends will offer guests a harmonious and rejuvenating experience.

photos: Christian Horan for Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

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Hotel Executive Magazine