An exercise in experimentation : Hotel Hotel
What does a building need to be,
to be a Hotel?
And perhaps even more poignantly,
what does a Hotel building need to be,
to create that elusive emotion of "not wanting to go home"?
Because our homes are carefully curated to be what we want them to be,
then by default, as a temporary home for a multitude of different people,
a Hotel has to work pretty hard to get the balance right
to appeal to a wide cross section of personalities.
But more than that,
whether a stay in a Hotel is for business or pleasure,
in a world where we quickly tire of empty gestures,
a Hotel building has to generate a real sense of cocooning,
of nurturing, of resting.
Which is why Canberra's Hotel Hotel,
softly opened almost 18 months ago,
so still a relative newcomer,
and built within the beautifully designed Nishi building,
is genuinely refreshing.
And it's partly why,
when we stayed there recently,
I kept announcing out loud,
to my husband, or to anybody who cared to listen,
“Do we ever have to go home?”
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust
So what creates the sense of the genuine,
in a building that has all the hallmarks of current green architecture,
built with recycled & sustainable materials,
utilising natural cross-ventilation, rainwater collection,
solar thermal hot water generation, 400 kW of photovoltaic solar panels
and achieving an impressive 8 star natHERS rating
in the short term rental apartments?
Is it because the Hotel design involved no less than 50 different
artists, craftspeople, architects & designers,
each working on the philosophy that the whole is more than
as sum of its parts,
and that the parts are actually where the art lies?
Every single bed room in the Hotel is different...
The variation may be a hand-made arm chair produced by a local joiner,
it may be a mid century modern coffee table centred under a painting
by a local artist,
or it might be the shape of the room,
angularly contorted to suit the layout of a central atrium filled with ferns
and light : a contrast to the intentionally dark bedrooms.
But perhaps the sense of the genuine is because
the Hotel is just a kink in the armour
of the building's use.
Taking up a mere 3 floors,
Hotel Hotel feels like it's part of a village within a village.
The floors above are apartments geared towards
Canberra's large FIFO population,
notably those who appear during Parliamentary Sitting Weeks.
(Meaning, political staff as well as associated
Head down to the Basement to find
sophisticated cinemas, run by the eclectic Palace group,
(so you know you can enjoy a glass of Sparkling
with your gourmet Choc Tops)
and filled with local Canberrans.
On the ground floor, there is a Library,
largely composed of Architecture, Art & Design tomes,
where guests are encouraged to linger and learn.
(As you can imagine, I had to be lured out of this cosy spot,
by an impatient 15 year old who wanted to see the James Turrell exhibition.)
Stroll through the Foyer to find vintage garden furniture arranged
next to worn-leather sofas,
where you can graze on local Canberra wines and foods
at the Monster Kitchen & Bar
(headed by Sean McConnell),
which deliberately spills into the Hotel Foyer -
blurring the boundaries of what is Reception and what is Relaxing.
Being a seriously cool Hotel,
bath products are by Aesop (my favourite brand),
complimentary combs are bamboo,
and the pure linen bathrobes are made locally.
(Harping back to my earlier post about Ethical Luxury,
this Hotel has it in spades.)
In further "cool stakes", as well as the enticing Monster Bar,
there is a Courtyard Cinema in summer,
and best of all, there is complimentary hire of locally built
Godspeed fixie bikes and complimentary Hatha Yoga sessions.
When I lived in Canberra, some 25 years ago,
there was absolutely nothing like Hotel Hotel.
It would have been my favourite hangout if it had existed then.
Friends who live in Canberra tell me
it's their favourite hangout - they go to just to absorb the atmosphere,
watch the people go by, have a drink, share a plate of food,
go to the cinema.
And perhaps that's the actual secret as to what makes Hotel Hotel work so well,
and to go back to my earlier question,
why it succeeds as a Hotel where one never wants to go home.
It's because it succeeds in pulling together all the many parts
to create a sum which is intangibly connected to the city in
which it lives.
The building addresses sustainability, support of local artists
& providers, but more than that it has become part of the urban framework.
Maybe, just maybe,
creating the connection between building + the character of the host city,
is the secret to a brilliant hotel?