BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 24 MAY 2011


Modernist architectural maestro and inventor of the skyscraper Mies Van Der Rohe once said “Less is More.” Well, not always. And to make “minimal” work you need to have an eye for the bigger picture, because it still has to “work”. The devil is in the details, as Frank Lloyd Wright noted… Or was it God? One way or another, we can assume that the details matter.

And don’t get me wrong, I like design as much as the next man. I am an architect after all. But the echo in this white formica, stainless steel and stripped timber training room was such that I considered getting the assembled troops to do “High on a Hill Stood a Lonely Goat Herd” as a warm up.

The space was somewhere you would put Prince Charles if you wanted him to have a coronary. This was no surprise to me because by the time I got to the training room I had endured the vagaries of this five star, designer, boutique, niche, modern, minimal, acetic, antiseptic hotel for a couple of days. All I now craved was a decent shower and an appropriate place to poo. My room did not permit either. Hair washing was achieved while kneeling in the designer bath (square, naturally) and the other in a designer loo (also square).

In the room itself it was impossible to find a door handle in the seamless (black) wall, an iron or a decent television channel. But I am pleased that Zenab Badawi is gainfully employed on BBC World News, as I’ve missed her on C4. That Tristran Guru fella is a bit too full of himself. She must be bored senseless.

The journey to the room along the corridor from the achingly minimal (black) reception desk turned into a confidence-building pursuit: I had to follow a small chap in a badly fitted suit through dim lighting, with the occasional flash of the deepest red complementing the gloaming of the dark (black) hallway. I’m sure I glimpsed Agent Cooper behind a curtain. On the feedback form I suggested that they might consider issuing guests with a branded torch, or staff with fluorescent waistcoats.

On day two the Bell-Boy was very sympathetic when I told him about the hair-wash-kneeling-in-the-bath-in the-morning-thing and he offered to show me a room with a shower, if I had the time. Who doesn’t have the time to get a room with a proper shower and maybe a sympathetically-shaped toilet seat? I have to confess that on the way up in the lift it flashed through my mind he might have got a hold of the wrong end of my stick, so to speak.  But no, he just showed me a really nice (black) room with a shower, a short fumble along the corridor from my current crypt. Then he promptly told me I couldn’t have it, “but look how nice a room with a shower is…”  

Now I have worked recently in Dubai and Zurich, and am always in London. As well as a good bed and a good shower and a good breakfast, I need SKY Sports… not only did we not have SKY Sports, but the football on the box was not in the room, and I was not keen to go down to the very expensive bar in my pants.

The swipe cards were needed to use the lifts and were very temperamental. This was far from an isolated case as I met some nice people (all Belgians) at small impromptu swipe and waft parties in the lift lobby. And the clue should have been the small and perfectly formed flunky being unable to do the needful.

One of the jobs I was involved in as an architect is One Devonshire Gardens, an upmarket hotel in Glasgow’s West End that was at one time voted Britain’s best hotel. Ken McCulloch and Amanda Rosa were the designers and visionaries who made it all work. Attention to detail was key, just as it is in the place I am staying in at the moment, but there was one crucial difference between One Devonshire and this minimal pile. And it has little to do with the fact that One Devonshire was neo-Victorian, since Ken and Amanda have gone on to design terrific hotel chains that are bang up to date. They were right into their design, for sure, and used to give me a lot of grief as project architect in their pursuit of perfection. But they spent most of their time thinking about how their hotel might be used by the punters. In short, they made it all very easy for the people who would be giving up their hard-earned to stay there.

In my designer bed I have pressed the button that closes the blinds. Then I reach behind me to adjust the position of the bedside light, wanting the intimacy of typing in a cocoon of light in a darkened room. It turns out the spot-light, on a 300mm (black) stalk that shines straight ahead onto the TV screen, doesn’t adjust. The bulb fitment comes away in my hand.

As I said earlier, all I need when I’m away is a good bed, a good shower and a good breakfast… don’t even get me started on the breakfast, but how can two poached eggs take 20 minutes?

When it comes to any type of architectural design, but especially the stripped down modernist stuff, there really is only one acid test: form follows function. Here, in designer hell? Ever tried to poo in a square designer loo? Not comfortable, not comfortable at all…


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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