How can hotels become community-centric?

category - leisure
sector - fashion
sector - travel & hospitality
Using a hotel as a moniker for civic infrastructure, Amahra Spence, co-founder of MAIA Group, imagines how hospitality can be reshaped by community and care

At this year's IAM Weekend, you introduced your concept for the Abuelos hotel. Can you tell me more about the project?

The idea for Abuelos was to create a physical space where artists can have their creative needs met as much as their financial, material and access needs. It is necessary because traditional art spaces – particularly those aimed at minority groups – tend to lose out when government funding changes.

While there are rooms, food and drink as in most hotels, Abuelos is primarily a sight of imagination. It’s rooted in the spirit of our grandparents’ homes; the grandparents who mobilised through strenuous and oppressive times in the 1950s and 1960s. Even at the tail end of the Windrush era, when Caribbean migrants were facing all sorts of systemic challenges, they were still centred on joy every day.

Safe spaces have largely taken the form of art, wellbeing and nightlife venues. Why, in your view, is the hotel an ideal space for social freedom?

Hotels should be sites for imagination, if not only for the amazing amalgamation of people who would never ordinarily share space together. Whenever I work in another city, I want to feel the energy of that city, and often you don’t get that from commercial hotels. They feel detached from a sense of place. With Abuelos, we considered how we could represent our spirit in physical form, and through all the different types of connections that are manifest here.

What kind of hotel services could you envisage sparking these human connections?

In one of the co-designing hackathons we held on imagining Abuelos last year, we talked about the idea of having no corners; that access is a design tool as well as being about creating spaciousness. There are some people who just want it to have a music studio, for example, or a dance studio. I want there to be various multi-functional rooms with different types of activities. We've also been prototyping the idea of having artists-in-residence who transform the bedrooms, so they become these sleeping immersive installations. For us, it’s crucial that the space is determined by the people who are going to use it, not just in this lifetime, but in future generations. We’re considering, for example, how children might be the designers of this infrastructure as well.

Published by:

22 February 2022

Author: Abi Buller and Holly Friend

Image: Yard. Photography by Thom Bartley


Left: Abuelos, a conceptual project by MAIA. Right: Yard. Photography by Thom Bartley.

Community is at the heart of Abuelos. How do you think brands can sustain communities in a genuine way?

A lot of brands, by nature and design, are about the continuity of capital. It is about community for the purpose of exchange in one way or another. When brands get involved in community organising, there’s a risk of having a dominating hierarchy. But brands do have the opportunity to move some of their finances or resources in different ways to support communities. Ultimately, brands need to develop a greater understanding of the community space and not pretend to be something that they’re not.

You describe yourself as a social organiser. Do you think brands are well placed to become organisers?

Some brands are well placed to be facilitators because movements need a platform and visibility. The role of a good facilitator is to get to the right conversation in the room. Brands need to consider the kind of conversations that only certain communities can have, but I’m conscious that a facilitator must be about the people in the room themselves – as opposed to having their own agenda or intention.

Let’s look five years ahead. How do you see collective care filtering into our day-to-day lives?

When I think about mutual aid, I think about two things. One, that we need to look at people of colour and migrant communities who practise mutual aid and use organising tools every day. And secondly, how informative the pandemic has been, because we saw these mutual aid practices crop up so quickly, like neighbourhood WhatsApp groups offering all sorts of support. But recently we’ve started to lose that and forget about the simple care-driven acts that we carried out in moments of crisis. Everything is really about simplicity. For me, when I talk about simplicity, I mean that we shouldn’t have to wait for crisis to offer mutual aid, it should be filtered into our everyday. I don't think it's about us needing to create something innovative and new, but about acknowledging that these things already exist around us.

‘It’s crucial that the space is determined by the people who are going to use it, not just in this lifetime, but in future generations’

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