What happens when the concept of a project is reduced to a façade in the process of its development? Are purely aesthetic aims valid in architecture? Does façadism have any value? Are we to become architectural dermatologists?
A client contacted us to design a hotel with corporate suites in Napoles, a residential neighbourhood in Mexico City that has been rapidly converting to office usage over the past few years. The plot was located across the street from the convention centre of the World Trade Center, by far the busiest office building in the city. The suites were intended to accommodate business people visiting the WTC and the year-round exhibitions.
One of the biggest complaints of caffeine-charged travelling business people is that no matter how hard they try to avoid it, their daily lives eventually turn into a boring and tedious routine: wake up at 5.30 am, take a cab to the airport, a Starbucks coffee while waiting at the gate, a tasteless omelette in the plane, a cab to the same forgettable hotel, meeting at 9am, business lunch, afternoon meetings, drinks, back to the hotel, sleep, wake up at 5:30am, catch the flight back and so on. Their lives seem to be filled with sameness.
This motivated us to create a hotel where every recurring visit would be a completely different experience, in an attempt to break their drudging routine. Every suite would have a different floor plan and spatial arrangement. These different shapes were then assembled like a giant Tetris to form a vertical tower. The tower culminates with the final cantilever shape to generate suspense. The assembled shapes were then raised to provide an entrance to the building. To accentuate the specific character of the suites even further, each shape featured a different material: wood, metal, volcanic stone, marble, ceramic, limestone, glass.
When the construction of the building had already begun, the client suddenly changed his mind and decided that from an operational point of view it was too complicated to realise 15 different suites. He wanted only two types of suites, of single and double height. We were shocked.
He reassured us by letting us know his decision was bittersweet. The bitter part was losing the original concept and the sweet part was that we could keep the façade because he really liked it.
We had to find a way of adapting the floor plans and rearranging the interiors without sacrificing the façade. In the end, the client got his hotel and we kept our façade.