Architecture A la Carte

Silken Hotel Puerta America, Madrid

During the heydays of Post Modernism (1975-85) architects strived for including the specific taste of their client in building design in order to make the users more familiar with the place from the very start. Since that time we have experienced Deconstruction and the reign of Minimalism both erasing any trace of individual taste or whims in their blank boxes.
This situation might have come to an end due to the visionary heads of the Silken Puerta America Hotel in Madrid deciding to convert a former bland conference hotel into a testament of what current architecture and design can offer for promoting a place. They invited a number of famous international architects to redesign the facades and interiors in order to globalize a freedom of choice place. So when booking to-day the guest will be asked to choose between 12 floors of very different and innovative interior decoration done by what happens to be their most preferred architect? Each floor has its own architect or designer.

The site of the Silken Puerto America hotel seems to be an almost perfect place between the Barajas Airport and the north-eastern highway leading to the central core of Madrid. In fact the building rises proudly on the edge of suburban areas where the tightly knit urban structure begins sitting on a rather open slope like a landmark dressed in a palette of bright colours. The facades of this inviting hotel are designed by French architect Jean Nouvel covering the original structure of the building by a skin of polycarbonate bearing a multi-linguistic poem by Paul Elvard: ’Liberty’.
The first impression when entering the hotel will be the public areas, lobby, restaurant and bar designed by John Pawson. At the reception desk you are offered an illustrated catalogue of available rooms – spanning in price between 360€ for a De Luxe room, 660€ for a Junior Suite (at the western gable), 1500€ for an Executive Suite, 2250€ for a Senior Suite and 3125€ for a Presidential Suite (located on the 12th floor and designed by Nouvel). And in case your interest in architecture is present sightseeing tours in the hotel are arranged daily – while room floor changes are subject to availability and have a supplement fee of 60€.

The 12 architectural floors appear like a palette of different visions and taste coexisting in one framework with some floors of the hotel being a little conventional others being rather expressive or even unforgettable. Accesses to the different floors are only given to hotel guests using their key-cards in the 4 elevators. The rear side of the elevators is made as a large panorama window facing the cityscape to the South. When stopping at the floor chosen a conical space embraces you before choosing either a corridor with 15 rooms to your left or 14 rooms to your right side. The anteroom as well as the corridors function as appetizers to the character of the room the architect of the floor wants you to experience.

After having visited the different floors and a number of room I gladly admit the Zaha Hadid one to be my personal favourite being extremely more sculptural and daring than the rest, although not everybody would agree with me. But coming in from the heat of Madrid to a cool white interior is like entering tunnels and caves in an iceberg.
A typical room measures some 4 by 10 metres and Hadid has made a sculpture out of her floor using 5mm Corian plates welded together after having made a full scale prototype of the space unit back in her London Studio, I guess. As a spatial form especially rocky caves come into my mind. The bathroom appears like weightless all white grottos with double-curved walls behind the integrated bathing tub tilting away and having concealed lighting tubes of different colours giving the impression of being somewhere underground with a distant access to daylight.

Likewise the bedroom is formed very organic or even dynamic with tilting curves simulating never-ending movements in walls and ceiling to make shelves, tables, benches or even shading ‘eyebrows’ hiding lighting fixtures. The integration of furniture into the walls makes the interior both cosy and intimate and among the splendid forms especially a moveable part hiding a wardrobe while looking like the tail of an airplane is excellent. The guest certainly feels much protected in this artificial white cave.
Something like the ultimately formed interior decoration might not exist in real life. All ingredients in architecture are having their limited time. Especially electronic devices are upgraded or changed within a short period of time – so a fixed solution might lot last long. To this comes the opposite claim from Finnish architect Alvar Aalto that real architecture should only be judged after 30 years of use. As a form of an interior or as pure artistry the hotel rooms of Hadid may last, but the materials, surfaces or equipment applied can not adapt future needs. Problems evidently arise in the interior wrapping in a plastic composite. This material is simply too white to resist dirt or any human touch, it even attracts dust particles by being a static electricity source as well as the materials cracks in its more exposed parts and where assembled in not visible seams. But the seams crack already and the future of such an experimental interior seems unpredictable not to say problematic.

By making a total spatial composition of the interior decoration the
Ambition of Hadid could be compared to Friedrich Kiesler’s Endless House project of the 1950’ies but even if you are convinced by the enveloping forms per se other problems prevail. To be fully functional adaptability of new installations or daily maintenance should be possible to an optimized degree. This appears not to be the case with surfaces that attracts dust making it almost impossible for the cleaning maid to do her job all over, while the wall plates themselves are beginning to crack in many places. Judged as an artistic essay the spaces of Hadid might prevail along the evolution of Architecture. An extremely impractical design but never the less a very hot one, and with this reservation the rooms of Hadid provide an experience I wouldn’t have missed.

Flemming Skude

Avenida America Hotel, Madrid, Spain
Finished in 2005
All together around 240 rooms

Floor and architect:

  1. Zaha Hadid
  2. Norman Foster
  3. David Chipperfield
  4. Eva Castro & Holger Kehne
  5. Vittorio y Lucchino
  6. : Marc Newson
  7. Ron Arad
  8. Kathryn Findlay
  9. Richard Gluckman
  10. Arata Isozaki
  11. Javier Mariscal
  12. Jean Nouvel: facades, night-bar, fitness and beauty centre & 12th floor suites
  13. Public areas: John Pawson