Hotel design: Qbic Manchester's ready-built, sustainable bedrooms

09 June 2021 by

This quirky property is the second hotel in the UK from modular budget brand Qbic, where swiftly constructed sustainable bedroom ‘pods' created offsite complement interiors that celebrate the locality. Katherine Price checks it out.

Modular budget hotel concept Qbic has opened its second UK site in Manchester, eight years after its first in London's Whitechapel and its fourth property in total. The hotel is built on a concept borne out of the last recession, to adapt and reuse existing real estate in a cost-effective, time- efficient and sustainable way. Architect 5Plus and Qbic's director of interior design Katie Edgar have has turned the city's John Dalton House, a 1960s former office block, into a bold, bright and environmentally conscious hotel with tons of personality and a local tale to tell.

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

The group's latest property is proud of its eco-credentials and green goals, as would be expected of the first hotel group to achieve B Corp status. Sustainability features include solar panels on the roof to provide green electricity, LED lighting and a partnership with Considerate Group, an independent organisation that monitors the hotel's data and offers suggestions on what it can do to be more sustainable.

Ground-floor public spaces

There are two entrances to the hotel: the main public entrance on Deansgate, and an entrance for hotel guests on John Dalton Street, although both lead into the hotel's open public space.

Interiors have been designed with a ‘saints and sinners' theme, telling the stories of famous Mancunians such as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, code-breaker Alan Turing and Reverend William Cowherd, who demanded his 18th-century Salford congregation eat a meat-free diet, as he believed that God inhabited every animal and, as such, it was a sin to eat meat. His ‘Cowherdite' followers went on to form the Vegetarian Society.

The stories of these figures, as well as messages of climate change and gender equality, are reflected in striking abstract wall prints and fabrics by local designer Bobo1325, neon lighting and standout interior features, as well as dummies on which their individual stories are written.

"We like to tell a very local tale wherever we go," says Edgar. "Because the building didn't have any real significance, we looked at Greater Manchester as a whole and what stories are perhaps really interesting but no one really knows about."

We like to tell a very local tale wherever we go

She adds that none of the messages or nods are too obvious, to prompt discussion both among guests and with team members, who have been fully briefed on the hotel's design details and environmental priorities (see panel).

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

Like Qbic's other properties, an island bar is central to the public space, with bovine skull wallpaper a nod to the Reverend Cowherd. All-day restaurant Motley has more than 250 covers, including a 70-cover outdoor terrace. The menu, created by head chef Nacho Llinares, focuses on low mileage and in-season produce, with small plates such as Korean fried cauliflower (£4.75) and fish tacos (£7.95), spiced lamb flatbreads (£9.95), mains such as garden spaghetti with broccoli, asparagus and roasted squash (£10.95), fish and chips (£11.95) and roasted pork belly (£10.95), as well as the Motley cheeseburger (£10.95). Desserts include a chocolate brownie and a lavender crème brûlée (both £6.95).

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

The vibe is buzzy and relaxed, designed to be a place for locals to hunker down and work during the day and meet friends for cocktails and karaoke in the evenings, with plentiful charging points across the space.

"More people are going to be given the freedom to work from home. I think a lot of companies will push for that," says Edgar. "But people will be craving human interaction, so I suspect that during the day, a lot of places that offer a lounge and coffee environment are going to see that people will come to those places to work from instead of ‘working from home'… That's something our brand offered anyway. It's very successful in London; we get a lot of local residents coming in to work there. But also, what a bonus being able to plug your phone in on a night out!"

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

The Motley dog benches on the outside terrace are made from recycled plastic and are one of many canine references throughout the hotel, inspired by Pankhurst and the suffragettes, who used dog whips to defend themselves.

References to eyes, apparent in the hotel's interiors, such as neon signage that says ‘I dream of you in colours that don't exist', are inspired by John Dalton, a Manchester-based scientist who was colour-blind and donated his eyes to science after he died. The street on which the hotel sits is named after Dalton, whose eyes now reside in the city's Science + Industry Museum.

However, there are also references to Manchester's more obvious celebrities, with a quote from Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher on Motley's wall: "I take me shades off every now and again and have a look at the world and see some nice things."

"Even though we want to tell a different tale, there will be a lot of people who are coming to Manchester because it's where Oasis are from," concedes Edgar.

Greenery is also abundant, both inside and out with planters and feature walls. "Greenery makes people feel good, whether it's fake or real. It also looks great as screening and shielding, as opposed to big plastic screens," she adds.

Meeting rooms and private spaces

Also on the ground floor are five private meeting rooms, all equipped with TVs and video conferencing facilities, which can also become private spaces in the evenings and open onto private terraces.

Qbic Manchester Reverend room
Qbic Manchester Reverend room

Edgar's favourite meeting room is the Reverend, which has space for eight people. Inspired by the Manchester Vegetarian Society's acceptance of associate members who ate fish, the interior has an ‘under the sea' theme, with artwork of fish and deep green velvet curtains. Three of the meeting rooms can be interconnected.

"We envision they'll be used during the day for meetings and corporate, but what we're also seeing is a lot of uptake for staff parties, hen parties and private get-togethers," says Edgar. "It doesn't feel like it's a meeting space. It's got everything you need – the TVs, the projectors, the power. It's got tables that change into table tennis tables. If it's not booked out, guests can use it."

Qbic Manchester Screening Room
Qbic Manchester Screening Room

The Screening Room, with space for six to eight for a private film screening or karaoke, has walls decorated with cherubs and teacups.

Bedrooms

Originally conceptualised in Amsterdam, where the first Qbic hotel opened in 2007, Qbic's modular ‘Qbi' room is a pre-fabricated bedroom made primarily from recycled materials that can be installed within an existing structure. The ‘pods' are constructed offsite and delivered as 40 loose, flat-packed elements that can be constructed on-site by a team of three in one working day. This also means every piece of the room can be swapped out and changed. The core of the Qbi is aluminium extrusions, which are recyclable.

Most of the bedrooms in Manchester have king-sized beds with mattresses made of natural, sustainable materials, which Edgar says were "probably one of the most expensive things in the hotel" from Devon-based Naturalmat. Rooms also have high-speed WiFi, water-efficient power showers and Faith in Nature toiletries.

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

The bedrooms' design continues the ‘saints and sinners' theme, with bold headboards designed by a different artist on each of the nine floors. Rooms options include cosy, twin, fun, mini, accessible and fancy.

The products used in the bed and bathroom pods are sourced from UK suppliers, including Foresso timber terrazzo tabletops containing a minimum of 65% waste stream content.

Most of the plumbing and electrics are also premade offsite, reducing the need for skilled labour during the installation process.

Contact and details

Qbic Manchester, 2 John Dalton Street, Manchester M3 2NW

0161 511 5060

www.qbichotels.com

Owner Cerberus Capital Management

Operator Cycas Hospitality

General manager Robert Alam

Bedrooms 261

Opened 17 May

Starting room rate £63

Buying in to green goals

"If you've got someone who is not interested in [sustainability], they're not going to make the effort," explains general manager Robert Alam. "So part of the recruitment process is making sure that we have similar values, and then part of their induction is a big section about sustainability and why it is important to us. And throughout the training, that is embodied in their work day-to-day, so by the time we are open, they live and breathe what we are for.

Qbic Manchester
Qbic Manchester

"One of the initiatives we're doing is the Qbic coin. If you stay with us and say you don't want your room to be cleaned or towels to be changed, we give you a coin, which gives you £5 off your bar tab. If you stay for three nights and do it for three days, you'll get three Qbic coins. It's so we can share the message that, if we don't clean your room, you will help the environment – you use fewer chemicals, less water and our carbon footprint for our linen supplier will be lower. The objective is not just to get a free drink – the coins come with a letter explaining how much you are contributing and saving on the environment."

Suppliers

Artwork and prints

Bobo1325 www.bobo1325.com

Mattresses

Naturalmat www.naturalmat.co.uk

Outdoor furniture, dog benches, lamps and bean bags

Fatboy www.fatboy.com

Table tops: bedrooms and public areas

Foresso www.foresso.co.uk

Toiletries

Faith in Nature www.faithinnature.co.uk

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