Q&A with architect Gene Kaufman

Architect Gene Kaufman has designed more than two dozen hotels for prolific New York City developer Sam Chang and is now thinking smaller in response to a cooling economy.

According to a report released last month by commercial brokerage and research firm CB Richard Ellis, 30 percent fewer hotel rooms will be built in the city by 2010 than planned.

Kaufman’s 35-person, Soho-based firm has designed 25 hotels for Chang’s McSam Hotel Group including three West Side hotels in a single building on 39th Street and 15 others for clients such as Magna Hospitality Group, Gemini Real Estate Advisors and the Lam Group. He also designs residential and commercial buildings.

As an architect, how have you reacted to the downturn in the economy and the credit crunch on Wall Street?

We’ve had to adjust our focus to projects which might be on a more modest scale, where the level of risk for the investor and the total size and financial cost for undertaking the project might be less.

Are you designing more budget hotels charging less than $200 per night?

I think this is a new thing which is just starting to happen. If you look at Europe and Asia, there has been, for a number of years now, the budget hotel which is really thought of as a business person’s hotel. The room is very, very small and maybe has an upscale kind of image but the amount of space is extremely modest and the price is as well.

What is different about these budget hotels than what you have designed in the past?

The quote unquote budget hotel is a somewhat different type than what we have been working on. It is not necessarily a mainstream branded hotel. I think some of the people who are interested in doing these are coming from Europe and from Asia. And when they are local they are often thinking of it as an independent hotel.

Approximately how many projects like that are you working on now?

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We are just starting with a couple, but I see a lot of opportunity in that area. I would say less than five. [Kaufman did not give addresses for the new projects, saying they were still being negotiated with developers.]

What are the smallest hotel dimensions you are looking at in designing a hotel?

In some of these budget hotels the room size can be even as small as 8-feet by 10-feet. That would be about the smallest. From here you are going to see a continuation of this trend which has gone from miniaturization at the high end through the middle market.

Are you designing smaller hotel rooms than you were six months ago?

some cases yes. I think what you are finding is that where we might
have done a slightly bigger room and a slightly higher price point for
a hotel we are now thinking that we might be at a slightly lower price
point and a slightly smaller room. 

With the downturn in the economy, why are some developers even willing to take the risk of building budget hotels?

I don’t think you had in the last few years true budget hotels being introduced in New York City. The hotels we opened and designed have been mid-market hotels. I think one thing that is significant here is that despite the current financial situation the average price of a hotel room has gone up over the past few years.

Interview by Adam Pincus