Extraordinary hotels of the future on show

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Dec. 26, 2002 at 7:00 AM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Contemporary boutique hotel design and conceptual hotel projects for the future are the subject of an extraordinary exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, a New York branch of the Smithsonian Institution.

The show, titled "New Hotels for Global Nomads" and scheduled to run through March 2, is one of the most imaginative ever mounted by the Cooper-Hewitt. It occupies the entire museum, the former Andrew Carnegie mansion on upper Fifth Avenue.

One comes away from the museum eager to make some of these hotels destinations for future travel.

Included in the show are models, photographs, full-size room mock-ups, a historical survey of modern hotels beginning with the New York Waldorf-Astoria, advertised as a city within a city when it was completed in 1931, and a wonderful collection of postcards picturing luxury hotels around the world suitable for "wish you were here" messages.

None of the completed hotels figuring in the show is more alluring than the W.S. Atkins-designed Burj Al-Arab Hotel on an island off the coast of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.

Reached by a causeway by means of the hotel's fleet of Rolls-Royces or by private helicopter, the hotel is probably the world's ultimate luxury experience.

Rising from the water like a sleek, shiny dolphin, the Burj Al-Arab boasts a soaring atrium in the Marriott style above a spectacular fountain. Its rooms are decorated in over-the-top Napoleonic Empire fashion that not even Las Vegas has replicated, and its dining room offers a simulated underwater experience. It is a grand urban palace in an unexpected location.

The most unusual of the hotels planned but still to be built, is the Lunatic Hotel on the moon, designed by Dutch architect Hans-Jurgen Rombout. It is totally enclosed by walls built of moon rock and is fenestrated by water-insulated windows that ensure 200 climate controlled, capsule-like rooms protection from the hostile environment. Scientists say the hotel is technically feasible.

The show emphasizes that hotels are no longer just a place to sleep but also serve as flexible environments for conducting business, as depots on a vast web of digitally connected sites, as opportunities for living out fantasies (Burj Al-Arab), and even as locations for communing with nature. Hotels that bring nature inside seem to be the wave of the future.

The Rockwell Group's Art'otel, designed to be built in London, will have both public rooms and guest rooms that resemble gardens with grass-like floor coverings.

The Architectural Research Office is planning a New York hotel with open scaffolding walls draped in mesh fabric that will feature hammocks instead of beds and a top floor deck for city-viewing.

Already open for business is the Rockwood Group's "W" hotel in New York that has a lobby in earth tones and walls covered with ivy. The bar has tree-like cocktail tables, and the staircase constructed of glass leads to vestibules with waterfalls.

The New York architect Lindy Roy has designed the Okavango Delta Spa made up of tethered and free-floating guest pavilions with sleeping pods that will rise like fairy-tale sailboats above the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, an area that is flooded each spring.

The swimming pool is protected by steel mesh to keep out the crocodiles but not to discourage crocodile-watching.

Other hotels designed for enjoyment of the great outdoors by Dutch architect Dre Wapenaar feature sculptural tents and clusters of multi-colored, balloon-like sleeping pods for overnight lodging. He calls these groupings Artcamps, and they already have been tried out by enthusiastic vacationers. Hotels for "eco tourism" designed by FTL Design Engineering Studio feature solar power panels and composting toilets.

Also for travelers is the Japanese Car Hotel designed by Acconci Studios that features cars that are capable of being driven but are actually stacked with bed-seat units that expand upward hydraulically, so the hood of the car serves as a roof.

Other displays that illustrate the concept of hotels on the move are in the form of tour buses and space capsules.

A totally new concept, "Lobbi Ports," introduced at the show, are pods shaped like curving bay windows that can be attached to the exterior of existing hotel structures to provide high-rise lounges and observation decks, thus updating these hotels as social spaces. Designed by Servo, a bi-coastal U.S. firm, in collaboration with architect Perry Hall, the pods can be constructed from kits of physical and digital products.

If you don't suffer from claustrophobia, the capsule hotel made up of compact sleeping compartments rentable for modest prices is just the thing. Under development in Japan since the 1970s, the sleeping capsule on display, designed by Kotobuki Corp., is a climb-in space with a mattress-covered floor and a miniature television set to provide entertainment.

A really practical design for an international hotel chain is the Interclone Hotel concept developed by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidios for six developing cities -- Bangalore in India, Kampala in Uganda, Baku in Azerbaijan, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Tijuana, Mexico.

The layout of Western-style modern furnishings remains constant in all the hotels but the selection of wallpaper, bedspreads, and carpet reflect local design and culture.

The show was organized by Donald Albrecht, the museum's exhibitions curator, and marks the beginning of a new and adventurous era for the Cooper-Hewitt, one of the nation's oldest design collections.

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