4 Questions for Stanley Tang, BLT Architects

As many new-build hotels have been put on hold due to the current lending landscape, hotels are refreshing themselves through renovations. Older buildings, whether currently operating as hotels or undergoing adaptive reuse, are challenging renovations due to architecture, space, and other considerations such as complying with regulations concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In March several new ADA regulations went into effect, further dictating design and construction of hotels and other public buildings. While many of the new regulations focused on defining things such as what constitutes a seeing-eye dog and accessibility for motorized scooters, ADA regulations, in general, have perplexed designers at many hotel projects. For older hotels, in particular, guestrooms, bathrooms, and public spaces are much too small or uneven for an easy redesign. Those size restrictions  can make for challenging work when considering ADA accessibility regulations. That’s why a successful ADA-friendly renovation requires the right balance of regulation awareness, engineering know-how, a focus on cost of construction, and a keen eye for design. Stanley Tang, principal at BLT Architects, is currently renovating a landmark hotel in Philadelphia, Pa., and addressing many of these challenges and issues during the project. Recently, he discussed designing with ADA regulations in mind and the challenges to his current renovation project with Lodging Editor Len Vermillion.

1. Len Vermillion:
What are the keys to balancing ADA regulations with design, particularly when it comes to renovation projects?

Stanley Tang: The key to balancing ADA regulations with design, beyond merely being in technical compliance, is to carefully coordinate and successfully integrate this aspect into the character and quality of the facility. It means first of all to be aware of the specifics and details of the various ADA requirements, including the nuances of intent, and then to develop design approaches that effectively respond to these requirements from the beginning of the design process. ADA requirements are not difficult, onerous or costly if they are thought of as inherent and formative programmatic and functional criteria being an “organic component,” so to speak, of the design response. Rather than being an anomaly or special exception, it should and can be a seamless part of the overall design aesthetic.

2. LV: Often spaces are much too small for an easy redesign. What can a designer do to accommodate ADA regulations when this becomes the case during a project?

ST: Space in and of itself is not always the only or best solution to functional and operational needs, whether those are specifically ADA based or not. Thoughtful attention to efficient layout and complementary spatial configurations can often address these issues, relying on creative arrangement and flexibility rather than simply size.  


3. LV: How might some of the newest regulations affect hotel design and construction?

ST: Like many codes, ADA regulations are reviewed and amended on an ongoing basis, with feedback and input from many sources including actual in-field experiences. At this point in time, most of the physical requirements of ADA have been well established, with the newest regulations having only nominal impact. The areas where new regulations might have a more pronounced effect typically are those that reflect advancement in technologies related to building engineering and life safety systems, as well as clarification of compliance and enforcement requirements.

4. LV: You’re renovating a landmark hotel in Philadelphia, Pa. What types of challenges have you overcome when it comes to accommodating ADA regulations?

ST: The present renovation has provided an opportunity to properly incorporate aspects of ADA regulations that prior to this project had been done in an ad hoc and piecemeal manner, resulting in less than efficient or aesthetic results. Our coordinated and integrated design approach to access, circulation and facilities will address many current on-site deficiencies. There are also areas being renovated that had not been updated since before ADA legislation had been enacted, such as in the overall guestroom inventory, where the required ADA guestroom count is only now being brought current. Using creative and efficiently designed layouts, upgraded ADA guestrooms have been readily accommodated without any loss in keys. However, this was not done easily. While it might have seemed obvious to combine a room with an adjacent hallway closet, it was actually more desirable to slightly enlarge a bathroom in another room to meet regulations. Renovations of older buildings, in which there is no consistent size, shape, or layout, often require the project be treated as a type of puzzle that demands creativity and precision to make all the pieces work. Within the scope of this project, the hotel will be ADA compliant while also being functionally efficient and cohesive in design aesthetic.

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