Hotels are tearing up the rules
COMMENT The collision of art, architecture and design in new hotels is creating a radically enhanced guest experience. James Wallman shares his views on the latest trends
I’m about to break the law. And I’m going do it here, in public, in flagrante.
I’m going to talk about “pop-up”, which goes completely against one of the cardinal rules of trend forecasting. The rule that says the role of a trend forecaster is to talk about things that are new and, more importantly, next. Things you’ve never heard of; things that set you thinking.
That’s the problem with pop-up. It’s been popping up for years. It hasn’t been new or next since at least 2007. Even Debenhams has done it.
But most examples have been in retail, restaurants or bars. And when it comes to the collision of art, architecture and hospitality, pop-up is still at the cutting-edge.
I’m thinking especially of parasitic pop-up hotels such as the one-bedroom Everland, the green capsule hotel that’s been popping up on the roofs of contemporary art galleries across Europe, and the boat-shaped hotel by architect David Kohn and artist Fiona Banner, which will be beached on the roof of London’s Southbank Centre, overlooking the Thames, during the Olympics next year.
Kohn and Banner’s boat is the latest landing from a short, but noble, list of headline-catching, one-room pop-up hotels. A list which regretfully includes a room built earlier this year in Singapore that immured the city-state’s iconic statue, the Merlion, and used it as the bedroom’s central decoration.
Imagine if we did that here: would you really want to wake up with Eros poking up through the floor of your bedroom? Happily that shortlist also includes the one-room, one-night only hotel created by artist-designers Hannah Plumb and James Russell for last year’s London Design Festival.
The experience of staying a night at the hotel resembled sleeping in a time-warped piece of art, thanks to a chest of drawers in which the drawers were old suitcases with their tattered travel tags still attached, a bed made with wood from an 18th-century Swedish bed and dresser, Jane Campion’s film The Piano projected on one wall and a reworked vintage telescope projecting a moonlike image on another. When you entered the room, it felt like walking into a magical, erotic story where time stood still.
Of course great examples of the collision of art, architecture and hospitality don’t only happen at one night-only, one-room hotels. You can stay longer than one night at The Lost and Found one-room hotel in Melbourne, for instance. Created by graphic designer and artist Jonathan Zawada as a physical representation of the Lost and Found city guide, the room brings Melbourne to life through work by local designers. The bronze and marble dining table is by local furniture designer Daniel Barbera, the bedspread is by local fashion brand ffiXXed and the vintage chairs are from nearby vintage furniture store Grandfathers Axe.
Loh Lik Peng has brought art, architecture and hospitality together at the new Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in London. Peng worked with artists and the local creative community for five years to bring the heritage of the Bethnal Green Town Hall back to life. Live art collective walkwalkwalk has created text artworks based on real-life stories from the neighbourhood. Artist Peter Liversidge has made a special-edition publication based on research into the history of the building. Paris-based Rare Architecture worked sympathetically with the Edwardian and Art Deco aspects of the original 1910 building and its 1939 extension, to create, on one outside wall, a laser-cut aluminium skin.
Art and architecture come first at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which opened earlier this year. But there’s a thriving hospitality element too. As well as the exhibitions, MONA has eight architecturally stunning standalone suites. Each is named after Australian artists and architects, and contains art from the museum. The Charles suite, for example, is named after abstract expressionist Charles Blackman and contains his 1951 painting Cat on the Roof. The Walter suite references Walter Burley Griffin, inventor of the carport, who designed Canberra.
So if you could pick one, is there a gallery you would like to see with a hotel on the side, or even the roof? I hope someone at Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art reads this and likes the idea. With its seaside location and its Henry Moores, Joan Miros and Max Ernsts, it would make a great hotel.