The Bilbao effect
Build the Guggenheim, and they will come—to the revolutionary Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao by Javier Mariscal
Lisa Lovatt-Smith -- Interior Design, 1/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Bilbao is still gray, and it still rains. At long last, though, the pilgrims who flock to worship this northern Spanish city's contemporary marvels have the right kind of place to stay. After viewing Frank Gehry's Guggenheim and riding on Norman Foster's subway line, visitors can retire to one of the most architecturally interesting interiors in Spain—a hotel very much of the new century.
The Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao owes its adventurous look to Javier Mariscal, best known for his 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games mascot, Cobi. Mariscal is a fun-loving designer of graphics and furniture, and his universe of whimsy easily makes the transition from paper—he draws ecologically aware comic strips—to three dimensions. The GHDB, as it is usually referred to, is his first hotel project. Its renovation was completed in collaboration with his friend Fernando Salas, a Barcelona interior designer whose penchant for symmetry and clean lines counterbalances Mariscal's endless delight in undulating forms. An architect of record was also part of the team. (Although the irrepressible Mariscal is many things—designer, prankster, traveler—he is not an architect.)
Describing himself as a "bit of a clown," Mariscal remains keenly aware of the serious challenge of undertaking a major renovation barely 100 feet from one of the seminal structures of the 20th century. "It really was terribly difficult to redesign a building within a stone's throw of the Guggenheim," he confesses. But when a phone call came from the general director of Silken Hotels, which owns the GHDB, the job's other aspects sounded alluring: five stars and virtually carte blanche, as long as Mariscal could work around the existing architecture. For the elevation that faces Gehry's icon, the Spanish designer accordingly decided to pay his respects in the form of a deconstructed facade of glass plates. "It's supposed to look like a set of postcards reflecting parts of the Guggenheim," he explains.
As for the GHDB interior, he says, "Remembering hotels I like myself was no good. It's an odd list. A hostel in Nagasaki, Japan, an extremely ramshackle inn in Gao, Mali, where it's unbearably hot, a palace in Venice, a hotel run by an Englishman in a pine forest in the center of Spain. I'm certainly not my own ideal client, which they say is a prerequisite for designing interiors." Instead, he and Salas relied on a spirit of playfulness as well as myriad allusions to design history. "Fernando and I know each other very well, and we have the same sensibility," Mariscal says. Together, they designed everything from tableware to a vertiginous spiral staircase that extends from the lobby to the top floor.
Each public space offers a quirky tribute to a particular decade. The cocktail lounge, with its molded-plastic chairs and Eero Saarinen tables and stools, is obviously '60s futuristic. The breakfast room's chrome-and-black custom table and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe– style chairs are clearly 1930s Bauhaus. And the chill-out lounge presents a review of Mariscal's favorite pieces from 1910 to 2000, with chairs, sofas, and cocktail tables by everyone from Charles and Ray Eames to Carlo Mollino and Ron Arad, another friend. "I believe that there's a shared 20th-century sensibility," Mariscal says.
The concept of integral design also appears in the hotel restaurant. "My idea for this space was to create a big contrast from the other rooms," explains Mariscal. He succeeded by taking a minimalist approach, with one wall clad in roughly cut slate, custom tabletops in oak, sleek Achille Castiglioni silverware, and seating painted black. "The elements are traditional, but we used them in a modern way," says Mariscal. The result looks sophisticated and simple at the same time. And the minimalism is transmitted to the food, award-winning chef Ramon Berriozabal's intelligent and imaginative version of Basque cuisine.
The interior's most dramatic space is a seven-story atrium capped by a skylight, and the atrium's most dramatic element, in turn, is a towering "fossil cypress" designed by Mariscal. At 85 feet in height, 8 feet in diameter, and 10 tons in weight, the sculpture was made from cantos rodados (rolling stones) and wire mesh atop an iron base. After determining the correct proportions, Mariscal's team constructed the sculpture in 14 units at his studio in Barcelona. Each section was then hauled to Bilbao and lifted into place by a crane. The sight more than compensates for the atrium's lack of exterior views.
Six of the 10 top-floor guest suites, on the other hand, feature drop-dead views of the Guggenheim's titanium undulations. (Four additional suites and 131 rooms round out the accommodations.) Two-tone furniture and custom lighting by Mariscal ensure a fanciful ambience. Balancing aesthetics and technology, he also specified Internet connections and interactive televisions that give guests information about room service, billing, and the like. Add the luxury factor of Egyptian-linen sheets, and there are plenty of extra reasons to visit Bilbao.
SCULPTURE FABRICATION (ATRIUM): PERE CASANOVA. SOFA (GUEST SUITE), MOLDED PLASTIC CHAIRS (LOUNGE), BENCH (RECEPTION), LOUNGE CHAIRS (RECEPTION): MOROSO. LAMPS (GUEST SUITE, RECEPTION): SANTA & COLE. CHAIRS (GUEST SUITE, ROOF DECK): AMAT-3. TABLES, STOOLS, WIRE CHAIRS (LOUNGE): KNOLL. DESK CORIAN (RECEPTION): DUPONT. TUB (BATHROOM): HOESCH. SINK: DURAVIT. SINK FITTINGS: VOLA. INDUSTRIAL LIGHT FIXTURES: IGUZZINI ILLUMINAZIONE. WOODWORK: CARRÉ FURNITURE. STONEWORK: JORGE FERNÁNDEZ CERÁMICAS. ARCHITECT OF RECORD: IÑAKI AURREKOETXEA. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: VIZCAÍNA DE EDIFICACIONES.