Madrid’s Hotel Puerta América
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Madrid’s Hotel Puerta América

Javier Salas A Zaha Hadid-designed floor lobby at the hotel. Javier Salas
Designed by an all-star team of 19 architects, each given total creative freedom and a massive budget to play with, Hotel Puerta América is putting the mad in Madrid. (Take that, Barcelona!)

How many architects does it take to screw about with a hotel?For the Spanish company Hoteles
Silken, the answer would seem to be "Never enough." Silken's Hotel Puerta América opened
this summer on the edge of Madrid. Built at a reported cost of $92 million, the 342-room property
has done to the hotel what Spanish chefs have long been doing to food—reimagining it,
reinventing it, and rendering it unrecognizable.

Puerta América's glass-and-steel tower sits beside a six-lane expressway in a drab suburb five miles from the airport; the center of town is a 15-minute cab ride away. You don't come here for the location. Puerta América only happens to be "in Madrid"; it really exists in that stateless realm called Architectland.

In an absurdly bold conceit, each of Puerta América's 12 guest floors, along
with the restaurant, bar, and public areas, was conceived by a different architect or designer.
The project's all-star cast included Norman Foster, creator of London's Millennium Bridge;
Richard Gluckman, who designed the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; and 2004 Pritzker Prize
winner Zaha Hadid. The principals were given few restrictions—witness the sumptuous
white leather that bedecks Foster's hallways and the acres of honey-hued maple gracing John
Pawson's lobby—in imagining the ideal hotel space. The result is an architectural Tower
of Babel where even the parking garage is compelling. No two floors look even remotely
alike, yet the whole somehow coheres, and one enters each new space as if passing through
a gallery. To call Puerta América a hotel seems an understatement: it's a 365,976-square-foot
museum of 21st-century design.

The edifice is sheathed, Christo-like, in canopies of indigo, orange, yellow, and red canvas.
Glass-cube elevators glide up and down the exterior, and at each floor the doors open
to reveal a shocking new world: on level 4, the eerie metallic wonderland of architects Eva
Castro and Holger Kehne, faceted steel shards buckle from every surface like something out
of  Tron; one flight up, Victorio & Lucchino envisioned a gaudy fantasia
of velvet and marble sphinxes. Puerta América comes off as a vast Hollywood backlot.

For the most part, although there are oversights—certain designers apparently cared
little for laptop power ports and drain stoppers—the majority of the suites live up
to the hotel's five-star ambitions, treading the line between funkiness and function. Much
depends on your choice of quarters: some rooms have bathtubs, full-length mirrors, and proper
work surfaces, others sport stall showers, vanity mirrors, and abstract wedges of Methacrylate
for desks. All are outfitted with Bang & Olufsen phones, flat-screen TV's,
Wi-Fi access, mini refrigerators, and remote-controlled blackout curtains. (Guests can switch
to a different floor each night, though the hotel levies a fee of $74 per room change.)

Hadid's rooms are the most striking. It's a pity Stanley Kubrick didn't live to shoot here.
The entire iglooesque space is molded from blinding white LG Hi-Macs, a synthetic similar
to Corian. There's nary a right angle in sight, and no "furniture" per se: from the amoeboid
walls, sculpted smooth as snowdrifts, sprout shelves, benches, nightstands, and a desk. An
iceberg-like slab doubles as a seat (ergonomic, schmergonomic). This must be how it feels
to live inside an Eames chair. For sheer bliss, however, it's hard to top Arata Isozaki 's
rooms, which have baths that feature luxurious white cedar soaking tubs and whose bedrooms,
all rich black and charcoal gray, with sliding oak shoji screens on the windows, are masterpieces
of understatement.

But it took housekeeping a day to find the dry cleaning I'd sent down the morning before.
The staff is friendly enough, though disengaged, content to let the aesthetic drama carry
the show.

Puerta América raises that unanswerable question: Is the purpose of a hotel to placate
or provoke, to soothe or surprise?Should one's lodgings offer an anodyne, albeit enjoyable,
experience—or a challenging, if thrilling, assault on the senses?(Holger Kehne has
said he wants guests "to be scared" while walking his jagged corridors.) Everyone who checks
in will have been given fair warning and will arrive expecting the unexpected. Puerta América
is a fine place to sleep. But it's even better at waking you up.

hotel puerta américa, 41 Avda. de America; 34/91-744-5400;
hotelpuertaamerica.com; doubles
from $245.

PETER JON LINDBERG is a T+L editor-at-large.

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