Jean Nouvel captures cinematic voyeurism, romance, and fantasy in his design of The Hotel.
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Who among us can claim to have never tried to eavesdrop on a conversation in a hotel lobby? Or walked by on the street at night, peering into the windows with a sideward glance, hoping to glimpse something naughty? Hotels, after all, are where tycoons surreptitiously seal shifty deals, where millionaires meet their mistresses for afternoon trysts, and where politicians do the unscrupulous things that trigger their downfalls. Glamorous and conspicuous, transient and shady, they provide fodder for the voyeur, romance for the daydreamer, and, of course, the stuff of movies. And this is what Jean Nouvel has so brilliantly captured in his design of The Hotel in Lucerne.
Just blocks away from the renowned French architect's recently completed cultural center for the Swiss city, The Hotel is a studied exercise in cinematic voyeurism and fantasy. Guests stare at Fellini film stills while lying in bed, patrons of the subterranean restaurant watch the reflections of pedestrians on the street, while those in the lounge above observe the diners below in a classic me-watching-you-watching-them-watching-me postmodern scenario.
After the moody, colorfully lit lobby, the second thing passersby will likely notice about The Hotel is the images, visible through its windows, that spread across the ceilings of its 25 guest rooms (ten studios, five junior suites, and ten deluxe suites with private patios) on five floors. In collaboration with Alain Bony and Henri Labiole, Nouvel has installed a huge erotic film still—blown up from an ektachrome and printed onto cloth—on the ceiling of every guest room. They are taken from such films as Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, Wim Wenders' The End of Violence, and Federico Fellini's Casanova, are accompanied by a line excerpted from their respective screenplays, and determine the color and lighting schemes for their respective rooms. Inspired by the amorous Cupids and Aphrodites that frolicked across the ceilings of Renaissance palazzos, Nouvel has asked what the mythology of our times is, and has found the answer in cinema. These stills introduce overt eroticism into the bedroom with modern myth and fantasy, and thus Nouvel has perhaps created a more refined take on the mirrored ceiling.
"The central idea was to create something quite unlike anything before," the designer says, "something that provides guests with a magical, exciting, and unforgettable feeling." Adding to the magic is The Hotel's subdued color palette, which, with dramatic and complementary lighting, transforms the polychromatic interiors with mirage-like effect.
Entering the lobby, one notices through vertical glass panels that below the solid Brazilian Jatoba wood-plank floors are the 70-seat restaurant and 30-seat bar. Sunken into the basement level, this space is connected periscopically to street-level plate-glass windows by mirrors that reflect light and images from the outside and bring them down below.
Indeed, lighting effects and transparency are hallmarks of Nouvel's oeuvre, which includes, among other things, his famous Arab World Institute in Paris, with its Islamic-inspired windows that, like camera lenses, feature mechanical apertures that adjust to light levels. And with The Hotel, Nouvel manipulates and employs light just as skillfully. The dark gray, theater-like corridors of the guest floors—illumined only by security lights—lead to sumptuously lit rooms, where the glowing film stills create ghostly reflections on the colored walls. Transparent glass panes and openings integrate the various levels of the lobby, lounge, and restaurant to create fluid vertical movement throughout the public spaces. The mysterious lights and images seem to pour out of the windows and beckon to pedestrians outside. At The Hotel, light, cinema, voyeurism, eroticism, and romanticized notions of hotels blend seamlessly to create what Nouvel somewhat hyperbolically, but perhaps justifiably, calls "not just a place to sleep but a reinvention of the hotel experience for the new millennium era."