Architecture is the mother of all arts

Architecture is the mother of all arts

This is what I was taught ages ago when I was a university student. Just recently I discovered an article by Giovannangelo de Angelis, the angel — sorry, I mean president — of the Premio Internazionale Ischia di Architettura, an Italian association for architects based in Ischia.

In this commentary he stated, “Hotel design needs to reconnect with art!” and “An ‘artist hotel’ is needed!” — which of course brings up the enduring debate of art versus architecture and design.

To put it bluntly, the difference is black and white — architects and designers are definitely not artists! If people decide they would like to be artists, well, nothing is easier. They should stop spending the money of investors and “make art” at their own expense and risk. But to design a hotel means that one is working for an investor and therefore must keep in mind the needs of the property’s guests and operator. With art, there is no purpose other than the creator’s vision, but with design and architecture this is certainly not the case!

So far so good, but of course life is not normally black and white — it is usually rather gray, meaning that architects and designers should have an awareness of cultural trends and be able to translate these into a visual representation that captures the gestalt of the current moment in time. This does involve the integration of “art” into the design — yet nonetheless, there is still a distinctly defined border that requires architects and designers to deliver a hotel that is as functional as it is attractive.

nhow hotel Berlin, designed by Karim Rashid

So then why are unconventional “artists” like Karim Rashid or Zaha Hadid awarded contracts to create hotels that are probably not terribly practical for the properties’ guests and operators — and probably more expensive than “normal” hotels for the investors? The end result is that it does make financial sense for operators and investors (and the subcontracted designers), because an avant-garde scheme along with the designer’s star appeal will form a strong identity for marketing the hotel’s brand (which again has nothing to do with art). I adore Rashid and Hadid, as they have created their own identifiable sense of style that has a significant marketing value, and that is the reason they are hired by investors. They can be successful because they are different from everyone else!

The truth is that for every 1,000 hotels, only one of them will have a wild personality. These other 999 properties might also be successful, but not by basing their branding on an individual artist’s style. Instead their designs should appeal to specific lifestyles, providing, for example, a traditionally rustic décor that feels cozy, or a more modern ambiance that is cultured and sophisticated.

It comes down to this: Interior design is very much about styling and marketing — but it offers quite limited opportunities to create art!