x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Top 10: hotels restored to function but keeping form in mind

Robert Carroll picks 10 hotels from around the world, each a remarkable icon of 20th-century design and architecture.

Hotel Le Corbusier. Courtesy: Hotel Le Corbusier
Hotel Le Corbusier. Courtesy: Hotel Le Corbusier

Hotels are protean structures. Demolished and rebuilt to satisfy the economic demands of their owners; revamped to accommodate the needs and whims of their guests: few hotels survive for many years unscathed. No doubt most are more pleasant places as a result, but blandness lurks behind this process. Like the digitally altered images that fill glossy magazines, we have little idea of what has been lost in this quest.

These hotels are icons of 20th-century architecture and design. Built by pre-eminent architects of the last century, many suffered years of neglect before being restored. Only recently are these remarkable legacies starting to be respected and loved. Perhaps this reflects a growing nostalgia for the 20th century, as well as an increasing dissatisfaction with lacklustre hotels that could be anywhere in the world.

1 Le Corbusier hotel, Marseille, France

This hotel is in the Unité d'Habitation, an innovative building designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier, the modernist architect who famously described the house as "a machine for living in". The radical multi-storey block was his attempt to create a rational plan for high-rise living that was pure and simple, eschewing ornamentation.

With shops, apartments, a hotel, and a pool on the roof terrace, it was an early experiment in creating a modern, concrete utopia. Hundreds of inferior apartment blocks aped this blueprint, but none managed to replicate the proportions and spatial order. The hotel remains loyal to Le Corbusier's minimalist principles, with sleek furniture, basic fittings and scant service. Avoid the tiny "cabin" rooms and try one of the "sea-view" rooms, which have Le Corbusier chaise longues and original kitchens designed by Charlotte Perriand.

Sea-view rooms at Le Corbusier (http://hotellecorbusier.com; 00 33 4 91 16 78 00) cost from €138 (Dh661) per night, including taxes.

2 Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Dessau, Germany

The town of Dessau, about a two-hour train ride from Berlin, was home to the Bauhaus, an innovative and influential design school, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Bauhaus used modern industrial materials to create beautiful objects, such as Marcel Breuer's chromium-plated steel and leather chair. It also tackled problems of the modern, industrial age such as housing for factory workers.

Closed by the Nazis in 1933, the Bauhaus Foundation reopened in the 1990s. It provides accommodation in the studio building. The rooms, once home to the school's students, have been refurbished in an appropriately sparse and minimalist style. They have balconies and sinks, but the toilets and showers at the end of each floor are communal. Nevertheless, staying here is a treat, not least because the buildings themselves are among the Bauhaus's most important work.

Double rooms at Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (www.bauhaus-dessau.de; 00 49 340 6508 318;) cost€55 (Dh264) per night, including taxes.

3 Africa Pension, Asmara, Eritrea

Italy invaded Eritrea in 1889, and made Asmara the capital of its colony a little more than a decade later. It remained a small outpost until the 1930s, when Mussolini used it as a base from which to invade neighbouring Ethiopia. The Italian architects who oversaw the city's rapid expansion designed and built a showpiece of Italy's east African empire. The result is an interesting mix of modernism and art deco buildings in Africa's highest capital. The clear blue sky contrasts sharply with the pastel blues, creams and peaches of the experimental buildings.

Highlights include the Fiat Tagliero building, a Futurist petrol station with huge concrete wings, and the Cinema Impero, with its rusty-red facade and original art deco interior. The Africa Pension is a modernist villa with neatly trimmed gardens in a residential area. The rooms, with high ceilings, are light and airy, but the bathrooms are shared.

Double rooms at Africa Pension (00 29 1112 1436) cost from US$23 (Dh86) per night, including taxes.

4 Historic Park Inn, Mason City, Iowa, US

Frank Lloyd Wright was a prolific architect and designer who coined the term "organic architecture". He strove to create works in harmony with their environment and with humanity. He completed more than 500 buildings, including houses, offices, churches and schools. Only six hotels designed by Wright are still standing. One of his most famous, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, was destroyed by fire in 1968.

Built in 1910, the Historic Park Inn is the only remaining hotel designed by Wright that you can stay in. The renovation programme cost US$18.5m (Dh68m) and took 12 years. The brick and terracotta facade and a beautiful panel glass ceiling have been restored. The hotel's original 61 tiny guest rooms have been turned into 27 bigger rooms furnished with dark wood, brass beds, claw-foot bathtubs and armoires. The result is a delightful combination of comfort and authenticity.

Double rooms at the Historic Park Inn (www.stayhpi.com; 00 1 641 422 0015) cost from $110 (Dh404) per night, including taxes.

5 Art Hotel Laine, Riga, Latvia

Art nouveau was a decorative style of art and architecture that blossomed around the beginning of the 20th century, using graceful lines to create an organic, sensuous style.

Riga, the Latvian capital, has one of the best collections of art nouveau buildings in Europe. The style arrived from Finland at the end of the 19th century, coinciding with a period of prosperity and prolific construction. By 1914, Riga was Russia's third largest city. Its remarkable assortment of art nouveau buildings were designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997.

The Art Hotel Laine is on the upper floors of an art nouveau building constructed in 1912. Its rooms are large and bright, and the breakfast is excellent. The hotel is a short walk from Alberta Street, where many of the city's art nouveau buildings are clustered.

Until March 31, double rooms at the Art Hotel Laine (www.laine.lv; 00 371 6728 8816) cost from €42 (Dh202) per night, including breakfast and taxes.

6 New Yorker Hotel, Miami Beach, US

In Miami's South Beach, art deco hotels are the spectacle: people stay here because they want to see the hotels. Art deco, a style popular in the 1920s and 1930s, is often described as in terms of elegance and linear symmetry. Think the spire of the Chrysler building in New York or Eileen Gray's Bibendum chair. Ultimately, though, art deco is about the facade. As a result, staying in such a hotel is often a slight disappointment, with sleek exteriors that fail to live up to the initial promise within.

The New Yorker hotel is different. The classic 1950s motel, designed by Norman Giller, has been restored by its owners Walter and Shirley Figueroa. They did much of the work themselves, choosing a classic palette of white and powder blue and scouring the country for authentic features, such as doorplates and ceiling fans. The result: stylish, evocative rooms that are a pleasure to stay in.

Double rooms at the New Yorker Hotel (www.hotelnewyorkermiami.com; 00 1 305 759 5823) cost from $99 (Dh363) per night, including taxes.

7 Hotel Therme, Vals, Switzerland

In the 1960s, a large hotel was built over the thermal springs in the isolated alpine village of Vals in Switzerland. By the 1980s the hotel went bankrupt. The village bought the property and, years later, commissioned the architect Peter Zumthor to update the existing complex and build a new structure for the baths. It opened in 1996 to wide acclaim.

The baths, constructed from layers of local quartzite, are nestled in the hillside beneath a grass-covered roof. The entrance is cave-like. The main floor is a series of baths with views of the mountains, while outside is a terrace and an outdoor pool. It is a peaceful and serene place. The hotel itself is a tad more prosaic, with black lacquered furniture and silk curtains.

Double rooms in the "Temporaries" section at Hotel Therme (www.therme-vals.ch; 00 41 81 926 80 80) cost from 225 Swiss francs (Dh896) per person, per night, including breakfast and taxes.

8 Brasilia Palace Hotel, Brasilia, Brazil

Oscar Niemeyer was the Brazilian architect who, along with the urban planner Lúcio Costa, helped to build a new capital for his country in the late 1950s. The seat of government moved from Rio de Janeiro to its new inland location in 1960.

Opened in 1958, the Brasilia Palace Hotel was one of the first buildings in the project to be finished. It quickly became a hub for the nascent city, hosting guests such as Queen Elizabeth, Che Guevara, Dwight Eisenhower and André Malraux. The hotel closed after a fire in 1978, and it was abandoned until a renovation programme was completed in 2006.

The building itself is classic Niemeyer: a striking, svelte structure with a wall of glass and an overhanging mezzanine, it resembles a luxury cruise ship. The communal areas feel authentic, with an Athos Bulcão mural, wood panelling and period furniture, but the rooms are more generic.

Double rooms at the Brasilia Palace Hotel (www.plazabrasilia.com.br; 00 55 61 3306 9090) cost from 275 Brazilian real (Dh588) per night, including breakfast and taxes.

9 La Concha, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Built in 1958, La Concha was a paragon of tropical modernism. Its beautifully quirky restaurant, fashioned in the shape of a seashell by the architect Mario Salvatori, became an icon of Puerto Rican chic. By the 1990s, it was derelict and scheduled for demolition. The local community protested and Renaissance Hotels decided to redevelop the hotel. It reopened in 2008 after a $220m (Dh808m) renovation programme that stripped away ugly modifications and more or less restored the hotel to its original form.

The result is beautiful - a shimmering white structure that sits comfortably amid palm trees. The interior is bright and modern. The lobby is clad in white marble and has sleek contemporary furniture. The shell-shaped restaurant has been lovingly restored. Once again lit only from below, it seems to float on the water.

Double rooms at La Concha (http://laconcharesort.com; 00 787 721 7500) cost from $384 (Dh915) per night, including taxes. Until April 30, the hotel has a four-night "My Puerto Rico Experience" package that costs from $1,552 (Dh5,700), based on two sharing, including a $100 (Dh367) debit card per stay, complimentary Wi-Fi and taxes.

10 Habana Riviera, Havana, Cuba

Built by Meyer Lansky in 1957, the Habana Riviera's became a glamorous haunt for celebrities, gamblers and hoodlums. The party only lasted a few years. Castro overthrew Batista at the start of 1959 ushering in decades of Communist rule. The turquoise 16-storey building, splayed at one end to give every room a sea view, sits on one of the best seaside spots in Havana.

Like much of the city, the Cuban Revolution has preserved it like an insect in amber and protected it from zealous developers. The result is an anachronism. The large and impressive lobby still has the original 1950s furniture, and there's a big, coffin-shaped pool filled with saltwater overlooking the Malecón. No doubt the huge rooms, with peeling paint and erratic air-conditioning, could do with an overhaul, but overall the charm and authenticity of the place prevails.

Double rooms at the Habana Riviera (www.hotelhavanariviera.com; 00 53 7 836 4051) cost from€60 (Dh288) per night, including breakfast and taxes.