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Architecture and design in the Ho.Re.Ca sector: an international overview

In the second book of Filarete's Treatise on Architecture, written in the second half of the 15th century, he introduces a metaphor which is among the most famous in the history of architecture. The architect and theorist wrote that in a project there is a father and a mother, where the paternal figure is represented by the commissioner of the work and the maternal figure by the architect


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Even today these two figures are essential for the proper completion of a project, and farsightedness and mutual synergy are reflected in the results. Luigi Caccia Dominioni, a Milanese architect, spoke not of a commissioner but of a client, a figure who was the bearer of a request which he was called to satisfy as a designer. This small lexical variation made a significant difference to all his design production, which was dedicated to experimentation as a response to the diversity of his clients.

In some project areas, in particular, the architect designs for multiple clients at the same time: the Ho.Re.Ca. sector - Hotel-Restaurant-Café - is one of them. In addition to direct customers, there are in fact future customers who will use the spaces designed, each with their own needs and requirements. In the Ho.Re.Ca sector an aspect which is decisive when it comes to the success of the business derives from the aesthetics and the environment which are created. Furniture, light, plants and music are just some of the ingredients which play an essential role in the configuration of the space.


Himera Beach Club - Campofelice di Roccella (PA)
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Today more than ever, in the age of Instagram and social media, the broadcasting of time spent in a bar or restaurant is a practice which is constantly carried out by the customers who visit them... From taking a picture of their meal to photographing an area of a room which has a particular lighting, the communication of aesthetics has acquired significant influence in recent years. In this sense, the choices to be made must take this condition into consideration.

However, this change hasn't brought about anything new; rather, it has emphasised some features which already existed. The choice of one bar over another for someone's first coffee of the day mainly takes into account the comfort of the building and the quality of the drink. The quality of the space is an aspect on which architects can express their design skills. What unites a small merchant and a large multinational is the desire to build an exact identity and to provide a multi-sensory request which goes beyond the products offered.

An interesting case in point is Starbucks, a large American company which has built an empire around the coffee experience, first abroad and recently in Italy too. It may seem like a paradox that in the country of espresso-lovers it is foreigners who impress us, but it is around the cup of coffee that an experience has been built, which we more precisely call customer experience.

Starbucks in Shanghai

Starbucks in Shanghai

Being able to feel at home while sipping a cup of coffee or a frappuccino, sitting on a comfortable Chesterfield armchair in an environment with warm colours and no time limits, is the classic Starbucks experience which one can find anywhere in the world. Despite being in apparent contrast with the ritual of drinking coffee at your desk, they work and guarantee a wellness break. It is even more interesting to know that the founder of the American chain took inspiration from Italy when founding his company, having the ability and foresight to extrapolate its essence: wellness in a location. The example of Starbucks, therefore, proves to be a useful litmus test with which we can identify some key themes for the whole Ho.Re.Ca sector.

Multifunctional spaces

More and more frequently, new restaurants and hotels are offered as changeable and flexible places which are capable of hosting different activities, which are not always related to the main core business for which they were designed. So the most avant-garde design hotels welcome contemporary art exhibitions, bookshops, cafeterias into their lobbies, as well as being enriched with services which are dedicated to the customer but also open to an occasional public; the spa area, for example, has become a very popular must-have (even better if it is integrated with an aesthetic centre which aims for environmental sustainability).


LaGare Hotel - Murano
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Working with light

Natural light and artificial lighting literally "switch on" the spaces and a more or less intelligent use can emphasise the surfaces of the materials used. Le Corbusier said that architecture is the masterly play of masses brought together in light thanks to which the architect succeeds in transmitting sensations, from quiet to cheerfulness, from dynamism to well-being. It is also fundamental to know how to remove light, that is, how to ration it and introduce it in union with the forms and with the destinations of the space.

Retro aesthetics and contemporary excess

Among the most fashionable trends we see a return of the design of the 50s, which represented a period of intense renewal on the level of colours and materials. In those years, industrial design was born; the fusion between the element of furniture and architecture remains an important relationship even today. The combination of warm materials - such as wood or fabrics - with cooler elements (such as light marbles and brass surfaces) creates only an apparent contrast: the final result, in fact, is a joyful union of textures and patterns.


Hilton Hotel - Milano
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If the nostalgia for the 50s has lasted for some time now, the trend of 2019 is the campness of the design, or the opposite of sterile minimalism. Therefore, "less is more" no longer but, as stated by the ninety-year-old aesthetic icon Iris Apfel, "more is a more, less is a bore". Browsing through print and online magazines, in fact, we see environments where the excess of different materials and pieces generates evocative settings overflowing with quotations from the eras and styles of the past.

If the word camp is defined as "the conscious application of kitsch", in the field of design it takes on a different meaning and recalls the image of the ancient wunderkammers (lit. chamber of wonders) or museum-houses of 19th-century collectors. From the point of view of materials, we pass from the use of cold marbles to warm and soft velvet carpets, via stoneware surfaces with interpretations of fabrics or walls of ancient rural villas. Camp interior design enhances the individuality and personality of the designer and the inhabitant, giving carte blanche to the imagination.


The importance of the green element in spaces

In a society which is increasingly attentive to psycho-physical well-being, aesthetics also plays its part. Introducing plants, flowers and vegetation into Ho.Re.Ca. spaces plays a fundamental role in giving life and domesticity to the environments. The gesture of introducing a plant into an interior space, even better if it is integrated into the furnishings using ad hoc designed elements, makes it clear that attention has been paid to the smallest details, a message of care on the part of the owner who transmits a positive meaning to the guest.

NòvAmpère Milan

Novampère - Milano
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The choice of the most appropriate materials to constitute the identity of a space is therefore essential to have an adequate starting point and to allow the client/commissioner to personalise the space with a logic and a consistency which reinforces its character.