THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: Audiovisual in design

Posted in Business, News on 3 April, 2020

As audiovisual infuses hospitality design, soundtracks take on fresh meaning. Whether a brand connects with guests through video or audio, cohesive technology integration helps cement relationships.

Hospitality designers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way they integrate audiovisual technologies into their spaces. And at a time when many hotels are implementing innovative visuals to engage guests – the interactive video wall conceived by creative studio Float4 at the Hotel Sofitel Baltimore in Paris, or the gesture-based, virtual concierge at Marriott’s Renaissance New York Midtown – others are reimagining sound as a way of activating memorable spaces.

“Background music has been placed in the same realm as design. It’s left the world of afterthought and become something that actually gets planned,” says Jared Dietch, a specialized curator and music service provider who works with large bands and boutiques. “If you ignore music, it’s affecting every other design decision that’s made.”

The new Sister City Hotel in New York, from Atelier Ace, took a spare approach to AV integration in order to reflect the new brand’s overall ‘less-but-better’ design philosophy. Tablet computers for self-check-in are inconspicuous but readily available. Flat-screen televisions in rooms are wall-mounted to open up the living space and built into wooden frames that reflect the Scandinavian/Finnish sauna aesthetic that permeates the property (some TV frames even have panel doors that fold up to hide the displays altogether). Rooms also include Bang & Olufsen speakers so guests cab connect their own mobile devices and play the audio they want.

But where Sister City has garnered the most attention is in its use of artificial intelligence and audio to create a unique sense of place. Rather than curating Spotify or other music playlists, the hotel’s operators approached software giant Microsoft to help with a soundtrack that would be 100-percent associated with the hotel and its location in lower Manhattan.

“When we started Ace Hotels,” the company’s signature brand, “we used to talk all the time about connecting with technology companies that weren’t necessarily pushing a product but were open to using tech in a creative way and taking risks,” says Ryan Buckstein, Vice President of Brand at Atelier Ace.

When Sister city was taking shape, the hotel used a video camera on the building’s roof to live-stream images of the city to its web page, helping potential guests build a bond with the location. Developers then saw a chance to use the video camera in other ways. As Buckstein describes it, “Think about how different our lives would be if some of the music we listened to was intended to evoke a certain feeling that would make use of the space flow a little better.”

Ace representatives had seen dynamic digital art exhibits powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and approached Microsoft for ideas. The result was a custom music soundtrack, composed by musician Julianna Barwick, that changes based on whatever the rooftop camera sense of its surroundings.

“Artificial intelligence wasn’t necessarily meant to be a creative tool,” explains Amy Sorokas, Director of Strategic Partnerships in Brand Strategy at Microsoft, “but we thought to ourselves, ‘How could technology come to life that made sense for this hotel space and bring the ethos of the brand to life in a really cool way?’”

For Sister City, Barwick wrote and recorded various pieces of music, which, when stitched together happens automatically, based on a Microsoft AI engine’s interpretation of video feeds from the rooftop camera. The system is constantly interpreting the events it sees – planes going by, bright sunshine, clouds – and triggering pieces of music. “I think of it as a sound installation that’s ever changing,” Barwick says.


Others are reimagining sound as part of their designs. “I’m finding that all my clients are really in tune with music and crafting that experience for each property,” says Sarah Duffy, Senior Interiors Associate for Stonehill Taylor. “We just did the TWA Hotel and Frank Sinatra is playing basically every time you walk in. It really pulls the concept together.”

At Loews hotels, the soundtrack calls for calm audio much of the day but ratcheted up as happy hour draws near. “The hotel lobby grows and fluctuates based on who’s occupying the space and when,” says Jefferson Lam, Loews Vice President of Design and Procurement.

Mind you, a well-conceived soundtrack means little if the audio technology doesn’t do it justice. Andia Gurlit, Creative Director of Music Design with Mood Media, insists that getting the experience right means investing in high-quality sound systems as part of the door-to-room cohesion that hotels seek. “If you have the music up pretty high in the lobby and it’s buzzing and annoying, guests will wonder, ‘What’s my room going to be like?’” she says.

At Sister City, the desired effect is “organic and natural,” Buckstein says. With the hotel’s carefully implemented audiovisual design and AI-driven soundtrack, Sister City has created a space where technology is key, but unobtrusive. “We wanted it to connect with the feeling of respite you get from the hotel.”


Technology writer Kirsten Nelson contributed to this article. AVIXA is the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA and its members aim to help hospitality operators and designers create a more successful future through the integration of compelling audiovisual experiences. AVIXA represents the $247 billion global commercial AV industry and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world.

For more information, visit

Join our mailing list

Click here to Join
  Join our mailing list