We speak with the responsible design practice’s founding partner about CityHub’s first location outside of the Netherlands, in Copenhagen.

At home in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and now Copenhagen, hospitality brand CityHub has built out its concept in the Danish capital with the help of Spacon & X. ‘An urban hotel for digital natives’, CityHub prides itself on fulfilling the gap between hostels and hotels, offering guests a balance of community and privacy and a deeper link with urban experiences through a digitally driven strategy. The new Vesterbro location covers 2,750 sq-m – the largest of the three stays – and boasts 215 ‘Hubs’, the brand’s namesake enclosures which combine space for sleep and storage. To mark the opening, Dyrup shared with us her take on the ‘starification’ of hotels, how the design of CityHub Copenhagen helps ease guest anxiety about shared spaces and why she believes the brand’s approach is even more relevant in the COVID-19 era.

CityHub describes their concept as the answer to the traditional hotel room. The brand’s locations are aimed at giving Generations Y and Z a private-meets-communal experience – tell me more about this mission and how it manifests in Copenhagen.

NIKOLINE DYRUP: We were very excited to work with CityHub because their mission – optimizing spaces to maximize the quality of key experiences – very much aligns with our own agenda of rethinking how we consume space to improve urban lives. With square meterage being so expensive in cities, the decision to remove under-used elements like a work desk and an armchair from the rooms, allows focus on the essentials we need, where providing best quality all around can be achieved. The Hubs are optimized with a high quality sleeping experience, interactive app-operated light, sound and indoor climate, smart storage space and high quality mattresses, duvets, cushions and textiles. This way of having a very compact private unit frees up a lot of space and budget for the shared facilities, and it allows CityHub to deliver a much more high-end experience compared to other hotels in the same price range.

This is also expressed in CityHub’s pride in not following the standard hotel classification, because CityHub as a concept is essentially incompatible with the outdated and (in our minds) arbitrary ‘starification’ of hotels. The concept is both efficient and aligned with Gen Y and Z’s guest priorities. A part of our brief was to design the high-quality shared spaces that this concept makes possible. The shared spaces provide variations of hangout and chill zones and the bathrooms are shared but balanced with a sufficient amount of privacy. Overall, it is a collision of mutually supporting but varied experiences, providing guests with multiple private and open living options, depending on their mood.

What was your material approach?

Experientially we decided to work with the brand’s digital-first approach through a concept of contrasts and contradictions, combining a Nordic atmosphere of warm tactility using our contemporary and honest methods with the tech-based and futuristic CityHub identity. By using materials in such a way – with their colours, textures and construction techniques – we have created immersive yet calm spaces through balanced sensory impressions. The same luxury is realized in the light and spacious bathrooms through the addition of saunas, cold showers and custom-designed furniture. Solid, durable, tactile and vibrant materials such as coloured concrete, yacht-varnished plywood, solid stainless steel, and colour-gradient printed glass are used. In visual harmony, large format Japanese nihonga prints cover the shower doors for a unique identity and more immersive experience.

Flexibility and a variety of opportunities is what makes it possible for different people to comfortably share spaces and facilities

At what stage in the design process were you at the start of the COVID-19 crisis? Did the project have to be adapted to the circumstances?

CityHub’s concept makes it so that you are not dependent on human interaction, with a digital, self-service system throughout. So, from the beginning, hygiene has been a high priority as many functions are shared. Because of this we didn't change much when the crisis started. The brand’s combination of hotel and hostel typologies naturally becomes part of the solution to this phenomenon: whereas hostels typically have too high a proportion of shared facilities to be a feasible option in these times, CityHub’s balance of private and shared spaces and digitalization is still viable and becomes one of the most affordable solutions.

The company is also investigating the idea of widening their target group to include – besides tourists – students looking for accommodation and young professionals working remotely or on an assignment: people who can find in CityHub a good solution for flexible accommodation during longer periods of time than the average tourist.

Are there ways in which CityHub’s design addresses or helps users to overcome the new anxiety of shared spaces?

Since the beginning of our process, one of the key aspects of our design was to help guests to overcome their existing social anxiety of shared spaces. Many travellers will be on their own or in groups of two, therefore it is important for both the social experience and the spatial efficiency to make it comfortable for one person to sit down next to or across from a stranger.

This approach lends itself to the new anxiety of shared spaces, with the design allowing distance between people when desired. The 12-m-long bar is an example of this – able to create a diversity of social gatherings because of its specific dimensioning across and between people, derived from a test-and-try design process. This flexibility of high bar stools arrangements accommodate the continuously changing regulations. The Hangout also offers diverse and separate seating opportunities through additional high bar seating, low sofa areas, the red seating landscape and the Time Out space.  We believe that flexibility and a variety of opportunities is what makes it possible for different people to comfortably share spaces and facilities.

Did working on 215 Hubs give you greater insight about the future of hospitality?

It was definitely a revelation to see how well it works to free the hotel staff from all the trivial tasks of checking in and out, pouring beer and mixing drinks, allowing the CityHost to be socially available to provide street-savvy tips and recommendations to each curious traveller about what to do in Copenhagen.

We think this way of providing accommodation – with sustainable optimization and increased sociable opportunities – is the start of a future trend that we have only seen the beginning of

It is also a relief as a designer to be free of the burden of ticking off all the sometimes pointless boxes of elements that hotels have to provide in order to achieve a certain ‘starification’. We see this as something much more appealing to the younger generation of travellers. In addition to this, working with the Hub typology that is not dependent on daylight or outdoor windows opens for very interesting new possibilities for what spaces hospitality can move into. We think this way of providing accommodation – with sustainable optimization and increased sociable opportunities – is the start of a future trend that we have only seen the beginning of.