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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