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Thom Mayne blasts 'generic and unmemorable' hotel design trends

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Something super idiosyncratic and hugely bad taste can be fabulous as long as it is compelling

The Pritzker winning architect Thom Mayne has criticised the majority of hotel designs as “generic and unmemorable” in an interview with CLADglobal.

Mayne, the founder and creative director of US practice Morphosis, argued that architects and designers working in the hotel sector are too often failing to create a space that wows the guests who will occupy it.

“I’m a person who lives in hotels and I have done for four decades, and my first thought after checking in is always ‘will I remember this room at all?’”, he said.

“So many of them are so generic. They’re either designed in the worst way from my perspective – by shaping things that make no sense and stylising things – or totally unmemorable. Sometimes they’re just not practical, which is very bad when you’re busy and just want things to work.”

He argued that designers should strive to rise above the expected, even if it means delving into the world of bad taste, as “something super idiosyncratic and hugely bad taste can be fabulous as long as it is compelling.”

Mayne was discussing his own approach to hotel design for the House of Architects, located in the Swiss village Vals, which has had rooms designed by Kengo Kuma and three Pritzker winners: Tadao Ando, Mayne and Peter Zumthor.

Morphosis have created two room concepts for 20 guest suites. Half have been built using wood and half using stone, and each measures 20 square metres. The other three architects came up with one concept for their rooms, each of which is centred around a single natural material.

Mayne focused on “scale, colour, tactility, unexpected form and connections to the natural context,” with one material dominating every room – whether it be wood gathered from nearby forests or stone hewn from the same quarried quartzite famously used by Zumthor for the wider Therme Vals hot springs complex.

“We tried to create memorability using the simplicity and strength of a single idea that had everything to do with the materials,” Mayne told CLADglobal. “People have never slept in an entirely stone room before. It definitely harkens back to living in a much, much earlier century. The rooms are small and monastic and shift your perceptions. That’s the power of design.”

The House of Architects is a pilot project for the much larger 7132 hotel, conceived by local developer Remo Stoffel as a luxurious resort destination centered around the Therme. That building, also designed by Morphosis, is set to be Europe’s tallest skyscraper.

Mayne’s vision for the 381m-tall reflective tower has been controversial, with critics blasting it as out of place in the picturesque surroundings. Defending his design, Mayne said that “because the valley is startling and the scale is monstrous, this is not a skyscraper – it’s an abstract line of translucent material, and when you put in in the scale of the site, it’s miniscule.”

“In a city, it'd be huge, but in this valley it's just a small marker; like a distant Robert Irwin sculpture,” he added. “That idea came about during the competition, and it was obvious as we were working on it that it was a unique, exciting and completely odd opportunity.

“You know, to build the tallest tower in Europe in a valley and in a village of a few hundred people is just so out there. It’s a lovely project.”

He said that the backlash the design has received is “useful because it allows you to develop your own thinking, as well as listen and respond to criticisms you might at some points agree with. It justifies the dynamism of architecture. If there is a very vibrant discourse it usually means you’re doing something interesting.”

The full interview with Thom Mayne can be read in the latest issue of CLADglobal’s quarterly title CLADmag, which can be read online and on digital turning pages.

The new issue of CLADmag also features interviews with architects David Chipperfield and Joshua Prince-Ramus, and designers Yabu Pushelberg and Patricia Urquiola.

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The Pritzker winning architect Thom Mayne has criticised the majority of hotel designs as “generic and unmemorable” in an interview with CLADglobal.
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