Wonder twin power
George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg take on Minneapolis at Le Meridien
Kendell Cronstrom -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"The notorious Block E." For decades, it was the whipping boy of fair-haired Minneapolis, routinely blasted by civic planners and attacked by local reporters on slow news days. A prime downtown real-estate parcel, it somehow fell victim to failed development plans, petty thievery, and small-potatoes drug dealing. In reality, the block was a G-rated Midnight Cowboy, but Minneapolis finally had enough: After narrowly escaping a future as a parking lot, Block E became . . . a mall! What would one expect from the home of the Mall of America?
Above the mall's Main Street U.S.A. facade stands a 22-story hotel, Le Meridien Minneapolis. Owned by Graves Hospitality, the building looks as unremarkable on the outside as it is spectacular within—the latter assessment being attributable to Yabu Pushelberg, whose principals, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, came to the project after the guest rooms had been designed but before the 30,400 square feet of public space had been accounted for. "The hotel's owners very generously left us to construct a program that was business-oriented but at the same time more vibrant, a real oasis for downtown," says Pushelberg. Despite the city's lack of formality, Yabu adds, "A strong artistic sensibility pervades its citizens. We took our cue from this dynamic to design a hotel that projects confidence and professionalism as well as a creative spark."
While the entry, sandwiched between a Hard Rock Cafe and a Starbucks, is decidedly low-key, the lobby fairly pulses with unexpected energy—the result of an almost rhythmic linearity. Shimmery bronze slabs run across the walls; floors of creamy Italian stone are striated with DNA-like strands of green; wall veneers display the honey color and stringy graining of paldao wood. "This may be sort of revisionist, but there's a Nordic quality to the finishes and materials that I equate to the ancestry of the area," says Pushelberg. "Everything is intangibly cool and pared down. I like the play of pattern on pattern, the striping of stone against wood against metal."
Because the elevator bank to the rest of the common spaces and the 255 guest rooms was awkwardly located to one side, the architects divided the lobby into a bellman's station and a sitting area. Guests must walk through both to reach the elevators—a conceit employed to further effect for the Infiniti Room, a seductive nightclub at the back of the ground floor, as well as for the fourth and fifth floors' reception area, Cosmos restaurant-lounge, and conference rooms. "Guests have to pass through a series of spaces, with corners and edges," explains Pushelberg. "If everything were opened up, it wouldn't seem as expansive. It wouldn't be as elegant." Screens appear often, designed to complement the hotel's geometrics: the lobby's mesh of blackened-steel squares, the restaurant-lounge's vertical stacks of acrylic slabs. Perforations allow guests at the bar, for example, to get a glimpse of who's checking in.
The architects excel at layering artwork into their interiors, and installations at Le Meridien enhance the overall linearity. Behind the reception desk, bits of recycled paper hang on strands of monofilament to create a loose, thick pile. Along a wall in the restaurant, stacked disks of mirror and loops of acrylic give a wink to vanity.
Such cohesive attention to detail might make the project seem like yet another candidate for boutique-hotel ubiquity, but Pushelberg begs to differ. "We don't follow a formula," he says. "Our notion is to energize the space and condition emotions by manipulating volumes and materials. As soon as you walk through the door, you think you're someplace else."