There has been an undeniable worldwide increase in site-specific spaces and experiences in recent years, particularly in the hospitality scene. In the magazine issue Frame 118, we report that hotels and restaurants are striving to be local in everything, from the food they offer to the plates on which it’s served. We also spoke to Ave Bradley of Kimpton Hotels on the importance of allowing a hotel to live its heritage. No doubt designers care about infusing a destination with local colour and history, even as they strive to ‘make it modern’. But what about the audience for whom these spaces are intended – the guests and visitors?

Towering over its neighbours, Hotel Monville is a 269-room property that can be said to stand out from its local context, even while its interior encapsulates a rich diversity of Canadian and Montrealer influences.

For the Hotel Monville in Montreal, Frame Awards 2018 winning studio ACDF delivers a contemporary design saturated with context and culture. The hotel’s very name is an overt signal of its motive, a ‘tongue-in-cheek Anglophone mix-up’ for my city in French: pointing to its self-designated embodiment of Montreal.

The Hotel Monville lobby welcomes guests with sofas upholstered in the city of Montreal’s official tartan.

The 269-room building looms over the neighbourhood, certainly making an impression from afar. Approach the hotel and the texture of the modernist tromp l’oeil façade reveals itself, the contrasting white-and-black pattern giving the windows the appearance of depth. The monochrome gives way to warm wood in the hotel lobby, a triple-height space stacked with oak volumes – containing mezzanines, a DJ booth and the corridor to the lobby washrooms – and punctuated with the imposing columns of a cathedral. The motif of oak boxes is repeated in the hotel guest suites, where the material is used in the extra-large headboards.

The oversized columns in the lobby are illuminated by lamps custom-designed by local studio Lambert & Fils. The staff uniforms are designed by Canadian brand Frank and Oak. The natural, organic hotel toiletries are sourced from Oneka, founded by Canadian duo Philippe Choiniere and Stacey Lecuyer. Local film maker and musician Valerie Jodoin Keaton created a mural comprising a series of black-and-white photography featuring ‘Montreal urban life’. And amidst these multifarious cultural cues, technology is embedded into the hotel concept, with smart televisions in the rooms, room service delivered by a robot, and most significantly, what ACDF says is Canada’s first self-check-in service. In spite of the hotel’s impressive 9.1 score on, there are a few reviewers complaining that the reception area is ‘too small’; that staff do not welcome guests; that the self-check-in system did not work; that their room keys were faulty. Is the technology too smart for the people, or is the new hotel (opened in March 2018) still experiencing teething problems? It’s my feeling that while some guests appreciate the modern efficiency of self-service check-in technology, others would prefer to be smiled at, assisted, and made welcome by a human receptionist. However modern or comfortable ACDF’s design is, local aesthetics are simply not enough to create a warm or hospitable environment – travellers want friendly interactions with local people, too.

But any hotel, bar or restaurant manager can tell you that customer service is paramount. When it comes to today’s hospitality design, context is king and innovation might be queen, but service is still the loyal and trusty steward that keeps the castle running.

Location 1041 Rue de Bleury, Montréal, QC H2Z 1M7, Canada