Citizen Chain – The Greatest Hotel Ever Made?
The simple ideas are always the best. It’s a universal truism, but oddly one that hasn’t really been taken to heart by the hospitality industry.
They fervently believe it’s their subservient duty to bend over backwards while lavishing choice after choice on their guests – from pillow menus to, well, you name it.
CitizenM see it a different way. And this small but perfectly formed hotel chain has got the less-is-more formula spot on. With just three locations – Central Amsterdam, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and Glasgow – the have perfected the essence of what a hotel should be.
They understand implicitly that a night in the city away from home should be functional, friendly, comfortable, stylish, accessible and affordable. At citizenM you can stack these criterions in whichever order you like – and no matter which way you slice it, those elemental ingredients turn up in perfectly equal measures. Like mille-fuille of modular modishness.
You want a handy location in the centre of town? No problem, it’s right there. Fast, effortless check-in? There’s your key card. A lobby you don’t actually want to dive through the window and escape from? Well, people are more likely to be fighting to get in – but we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
In these uncertain and straitened times, Citizen M has done all these things with an alchemic flourish that makes you feel like you’re getting something of a bargain. More than that – like you can’t believe your own luck!
When I stayed at the Glasgow division in October, I came down to a deserted lobby. About the size of three tennis courts, it was neatly split into four elegant subdivisions.
Each more generously furnished than the last with the best examples of mid-to-late 20th Century furniture I’ve seen in any hotel anywhere. (With the possible exception of The Parker in Palm Springs, but that’s another story).
The pieces come from contemporary furnishing experts, Vitra – it’s a synergy where citizenM acts as a living showroom. And the Glasgow outpost has quite an inventory: Verner Panton’s Cone Chairs, Highback Amoebas, and the trippy tactile Living Tower; George Nelson’s colourful Marsh mellow Sofa, Jean Prouve's functionally uptight 1930 Cite armchairs and Standard dining chairs; Charles and Ray Eames’ laidback Lounge Chair and Ottoman in brown or white leather. There were modern pieces; too: Hella Jongerius’ Polder sofa – and, well I think you get the message…
I was like kid with the Golden Ticket, alone with furniture I’d previously only dreamed of, and not an Umpalumpa in sight. Of course, I did what any self respecting adult would do – I sat, slouched, and situated myself in all of them. There was no grubby charge back on my credit card – it’s actively encouraged by the sociable, black denim and Converse-clad sociable staff, and it was free! A rare thing in the hospitality industry today where paying handsomely for the pleasure is the default setting.
But then the hotel has a philosophy – and that’s another thing I’m a sucker for…
“CitizenM is a hotel driven by one desire: to create affordable luxury for the people,” says their mission statement. Nice touch, I say – a nebulous, stock hospitality industry platitude neatly undercut with Marxism-lite overtones. That’s the kind of revolution we all have an appetite for.
“By the people we mean a smart new breed of international traveller,” they confirm. “This includes the weekenders, the suits, fashion baggers, adventurers and dreamers. Those who travel the world with big hearts and wide eyes. Those in search of business, shopping, or art. In short, everyone who is a mobile citizen of the world.”
Of course, you may think that it’s clap-trap but I consider myself eligible for more than one of those categories. Call me deluded, but there’s clearly more than impressionable old me who’s fallen for their poetic dogma and radical ideals – especially since the company has just announced expansion plans.
Two sites in London are already confirmed – one at the South Bank close to the Tate Modern Museum, due to open at the end of 2011, and the other to open on Tower Hill in time for the 2012 Olympics. Two new sites are also confirmed in New York – on 50th and Broadway / Times Square and the hip Bowery on the fringe between Soho and the Lower East Side.
The chain is also targeting Paris and Milan with plans to open 20 hotels during the next five years, in prime locations in European major cities. But why stop there? Why indeed, the citizenM mission is to open 5 to 10 hotels annually across Europe – each with between 100-300 rooms, in locations the company says, ‘where mobile citizens feel at home.’
It’s an ambitious move with the current shaky state of affairs, but this is the clever part – where the finance and concept collide…
Economies of scale are an intrinsic part of all citizenM’s processes – from the modular build to the guests self-cert check in, to their three tiered advanced booking tariff. Glasgow was £59 for a booking that couldn’t be changed, rising in ten pound increments to £79 for a fully flexible reservation. No hidden deals, no limited release offers, no first-come first-served bun fight.
Like I said, it’s dead simple. The company has engineered a method of facilitating a quick roll out of the brand across Europe with minimum fuss, and minimum waste.
The chain has an inbuilt self sufficiency – citizenM acts as developer, investor and operator of the hotels, acquiring freehold development sites or long term ground leases. The aim is to develop the hotels on its own behalf, using its modular building system of room ‘modules' prefabricated off site and fitted in situ. Of course, it’s not the hotel that Jack built, so the company also works with local architects and consultants on every development site to create a building that fits within local regulations and the requirements of local development partners, as applicable.
Carel van Houte, citizenM’s Chief Development Officer clarifies the company’s innovative approach:
“The current economic climate has increased the demand for affordable luxury accommodation. Modern travellers love the big beds, great showers and a high tech environment that are part of the citizenM offering.
“The citizenM model offers consistency across every hotel space we operate in, whilst incorporating stylish design and luxurious finishes – usually found in 5 star hotels – for an affordable price. [We] provide the best consistent quality possible within strict time boundaries and at an affordable price. It’s the ideal way to market for our planned expansion.”
The result is recognisable, well designed and executed hotels. The distinctive slate grey glazed hive exterior was designed by award winning Dutch design firm Concrete Architectural Associates. They’ve applied a design to suit the company ethos in a vertically integrated fashion – modular and mobile prefabricated construction with hotel rooms that are completely prefabricated off site in citizenM's own in-house production facility and subsequently transported to the building site. The rooms are then assembled to create the hotel.
This IFD (Industrial, Flexible, Demountable) building method reduces the on-site construction time to only 8-10 months. Prescribed tolerances and from the tried and tested blueprint also ensures a consistent quality of the rooms. Finally, this build strategy ensures minimum construction waste and on-site energy usage, adding sustainability into citizenM’s radical package.
Business travellers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your crummy lobbies and joyless hotel chains.