Port of America

Port of America

Not too long ago, a large hotel in a non-descript location,
with no pedigree, made a splash in architecture periodicals. I am referring to the Puerta America hotel in Madrid. Not content to hire one rock star architect, the
hotel hired a different one for every floor and public space. The general
thinking behind the decision was that with the hotel located beside a highway
in an area where no guests would stay unless they were seduced into sleeping
there, the sex appeal of big name designers and their bespoke designs would put
“heads on beds.”

Judging from my recent visit, sex still sells.

First, for those who don’t recall (or dare confess at their
own risk to have missed this), Puerta America is your basic double-loaded high-rise
hotel, rendered in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Each of our
taxi drivers (one must go to and from by cab or metro, as it truly is isolated
from everything) verified our request to go there by asking if we wanted the
“building of colors.” Coupled with exterior glass elevators and a
huge “shapey” shielding a rooftop nightclub, this rainbow monster,
lit in red at night, looms over its environs. But the magic is mostly inside.

The ground floor features bars and restaurants by the likes
of Christian Liagre. The guestroom floors are done by Zaha Hadid, Jean Novel,
David Chipperfield and similar stars with plenty of names that would make
anyone’s top 10 hot list of architects along with a few hidden gems for good

We wangled one of the few remaining rooms. Luckily, the
hotel was not so overly book that we weren?t able to get our first choice ? a Zaha
Hadid white room (one chooses a room by designer and design, rather than size
or view). Whether she is the first floor because she is first or low on the
totem pole (Nouvel is on top), or because her rooms are so sexy that you
needn’t look outside at a view, is unclear. Perhaps it is because her bulbous
protruding forms, here rendered in shin numbing Corian, threaten to have those
guests ambushed by an unfamiliar bedroom carried down on stretchers. Her
amorphous bed platform juts into space and her floors morph into walls and
tubs. But give no thought to those archetypal, easily befuddled elderly
travelers defeated by their faucets and remote controls, their presence is
scarcely considered and perhaps deliberately disdained.

For when one finally makes it to the hotel summit, the
tightly screened roof bar, the tumultuous throng of hot bodies is ample
evidence that the clientele is touching down en route from Marrakech to
Mykonos, not visiting relatives in the neighborhood.

The numbers back up the impression that this place is a
siren who continues to woo men, and women, to her embrace.

What lessons may we draw from this example of out-of-the-box
thinking bringing box office success? It can’t be that every roadside motel
needs a roster of “starchitects.” But may we surmise that buzz sells better than

One charge leveled at boutique hotels that press all, or at
least some, buttons will be that they will soon be unbuttoned, discarded and
sent to the cleaners like that day’s hot outfit. But it seems that the shelf
life of design is long, or at least long enough.

With hotels, one can’t
download immediately, like a new Lady Gaga single, unless you are one of those
who fly to other continents regularly simply to stay at a certain hotel, in
which case, my case is slam dunk made. So allowing for travel patterns, in my
case the last time I was in Spain was seven years ago, and statistically for
most it is longer, a designer hotel has a shelf life multiplied by the hipness
of its destination times the square of the remoteness of its location