If traveling for work seems like more of a task than a luxury, consider Roger Eberhard’s self-imposed travel regimen last year: For his new photo book, Standard, the Swiss photographer traveled to 32 countries across six continents, all over the course of exactly 365 days. But whether in Hanoi, Vietnam, or Nairobi, Tokyo, or Venice, Italy, his documentation was always the same—one photo captured the interior of his Hilton hotel room, and another the view out of his window.
And yes, it was always a Hilton. Eberhard started the project after coming across a quote from the founder of the monster hotel chain, Conrad Hilton, that claimed “Each of our hotels is a little America.” Eager to test that assertion, Eberhard booked a standard Hilton room in every city he visited, staying for only one night in each. He took all of his photos of the rooms from the same angle, in the far corner facing the bed. The only images of the cities Eberhard visited that made the book are the ones he could get from the hotel windows. “I wanted to explore the question of why do we travel the world and stay in a place that looks same everywhere we go?” he says. “What does that say about us as creatures of habit?”
To flip from hotel room to hotel room in Standard is to find the design and layout of each room to be eerily uniform. This is by design. When he returned home, Eberhard’s research assistant found him a copy of the “Hilton Design and Construction Standards Manual,” which specifies, for example, that in every room there should be an upholstered lounge chair with arms. Side tables should be on either side of the bed, as well as two reading lamps. In almost all of Eberhard’s photos, there’s a big wall hanging behind the bed, which simultaneously serves as a sort of oversized backrest. Boxy black alarm clocks sit on one of the side tables in most photos, like a camouflaged time stamp.
More surprising to Eberhard than the uniformity of the rooms was the similarities in the views from the windows. Many show a cluster of skyscrapers, or broad avenues and highways that give as little clue to the location as the interior. By contrast, he started to pick up on slight changes in decor that alluded to the locale. Although the core elements of each room follow the American modernist style laid out in the standards manual, most rooms showed some local taste. The hotel in Venice, for instance, added Murano glass lamps, and the hotels in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, featured colorful patterned drapes. In Bangkok, a glazed wall covering reflected the skyline from the window, bringing a distinct aspect of the Asian metropolis into the room.
In that way, subtle features of the decor—or the look of the local transportation system if seen from the window—often offer the best indication of where the photo was taken if they are caption-less, as they are in the book’s spreads. Otherwise, it’s the same sterile environment repeated with every turn of the page. It’s a picture of a new type of globalization, one characterized by writer Kyle Chayka in a piece for the Verge as “airspace.” With the rise of companies like Airbnb and the reach of social media, a universal style has seeped its way into cities worldwide—and it’s a type of uniformity that extends beyond hotel walls. Preceding all of this was Hilton, repeating its design all over the world as it sprang up in city after city in the ’60s, paving the way for this level of sameness and our ready acceptance of it.
For Eberhard, though, the project isn’t a criticism of globalization, or a comment on the inauthenticity of hotel rooms—it’s just neutral documentation of what he observed. Staying in all of these Hiltons was repetitive, he says, but it was also a comfort. “No matter where you stay, it’s clean and you get good service,” he says. “It’s exactly what you expect.”