This blog series – by A&DS Director of Place Diarmaid Lawlor – looks at lessons learned from a trip to Mannheim, Germany, in early 2017 and sets out some of the observations and learning for Scotland. This blog looks at The Green City Hotel in Vauban, and inspiring story of inclusion, quality and dignity and links to Place Standard Theme 5: Work and local economy
The Green City Hotel in Vauban is a beautiful contemporary building, framed in timber with windows punched across the façade looking out towards the mountains surrounding Freiburg. And, from the moment you see this building, the quality of concept and execution sing out.
At street level, ornamental grasses separate the building façade from the zone where pedestrians walk. Growing upward from these grasses, forming a regular rhythm across the face, are large creeper plants trained on wires. These provide shade to the bedrooms in the hotel in summer and enhance the biodiversity of the building and streetscape.
Inside, the entrance is a long continuous space which links reception, conference suite and dining area. The ceiling is poured concrete, with the imprints of timber shuttering choreographed across its surface. Walls are contemporary green, seats and tables chic modern furniture, and class contemporary art. This feels like a quality space.
The hotel even serves local produce, targeting Vauban’s local business market and rising tourist market.
But, none of these characteristics are the most impressive part of its story.
Lessons on inclusion
This hotel is an integration hotel with 20 employees, 50% of whom have a disability, all of whom get equal pay and conditions.
This is no sympathy service; everything in the hotel is high quality, from the architecture to the service and workforce development.
Staff are organised in teams, so the skills and capacities of the individuals are shared to carry out tasks effectively. Staff take breakfast together every day in this safe space to talk, celebrate and share learning. Every team mixes able and disabled staff. Every disabled staff member has an assistant. Initially, the assistants came around weekly. Now, they mostly come once a month because the staff have built independence and confidence.
The hotel is a complex partnership between the city of Freiburg, the neighbourhood associations of Vauban and a consortium of charities.
It is a working model of effective collaboration around a coincidence of interests – the city’s interest to develop a key part of Vauban with a public-facing building while consolidating the environmental narrative of the neighbourhood; the interest of the consortium around their integration agenda and business model; and the interests of tourism and local suppliers. And the result is a high-quality service delivering multiple outcomes in a high-quality setting with a value for money approach.
In this regard, the hotel shares much in common with the principles of the Manheimmer Quartermanagement approach – delivering local outcomes by creating the right environment, supported by the right structures and tools.
Lessons in placemaking
The hotel also performs an important placemaking function, in the physical and economic context of Vauban. It invites thinking on localised partnerships for outcomes in placemaking strategies.
Could new public spaces build on the integration hotel model?
For example, could community shops and cafes build a local offer around high-quality produce? Could they demonstrate cooking different foods to the community while delivering a high-quality service which attracts people because of the quality offer? Could they at the same time integrate local people, perhaps with disabilities, linking the worth of work with developmental pathways and founded on fair pay and conditions?
Could micro hotels build on the integration hotel model, using spaces that already exist to deliver a niche service enhancing the attractiveness of places people don’t want to go to?
The evidence in Vauban is that quality and fairness matter. And a distinct narrative underpinning the experience, be it environmental sustainability or arts and creativity, must be visible at every level of the service – from the spaces and settings of the building to the way staff interact.
The structure of collaboration matters, too, around a shared commitment to quality becoming the driving force to achieve outcomes. Green City Hotel is a business after all.
And what a wonderful, inspiring model it is.