Triumph of design over function – III

Twice before this site has noted instances of hotels succumbing to the design whims of noted architects and designers that end up forsaking function for form. The Financial Times (link may require subscription) reviews a hotel designed by legendary American architect, Frank Gehry 75 miles outside Bilbao, Spain. The headline (But nowhere to hang a towel . . .) for the article sums up the many design flaws in the El Hotel Marqués de Riscal managed by Starwood as part of its Luxury Collection.

The design non-sequiturs at the Riscal include artificial flowers in the reception, scarce 90-degree angles within the room, a shaving mirror that had been mis-hung so it faced the wall, and nowhere to hang a towel. It did not help that the reviewer encountered less than luxury service manifested by being “handed a key card and told airily that I would find the lift around the corner to my left” or that nobody was “on hand to explain how the electronically controlled crimson-velvet curtains drew, the cloud-like bedside lights worked, nor, on a cold October night, how the roaring arctic aircon could be stilled”.

Having outstanding architecture as in the form of “an arresting sight: a tangle of pappardelle-like ribbons of pink and gold titanium and silver stainless steel supported by monolithic sandstone (in keeping with the village) columns and a dizzying network of steel joists” is one thing, but making it all work is another. Gehry’s work is reminiscent of the work of another famous architect – this time in New York – who “designed” a hotel with no space on the floors for hotel equipment like maids carts; an outcome that made it housekeeping a challenge. The Hotel Riscal seems to have realized its bloopers as the review cites the hotel’s owners as acknowledging his complaints and presumably those of others in closing the hotel in January of 2007 for a month’s “tweaking”. It might well require a lot more than a month.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.