New Mood For Miami
Asian influences give a new, cool edge to hot Latin design in the Mandarin Oriental Miami.
Staff -- Interior Design, 6/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
MIAMI IS SYNONYMOUS with design, at least in the hotel world. The chic, rebellious boutique hotels of South Beach have shaken up guest expectations with experiments ranging from French Art Deco to minimalism and beyond. So, how can a mainstream chain hotel steal some of that thunder without looking forced and false? Check out the Mandarin Oriental Miami.
Like SoBe's boutique hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, which opened last November, scraps many of the rules about luxury hotel design. Its polished good looks reflect the now established trend away from the expected 5-star trappings used in traditional ways. Instead, architects in RTKL's Washington, D.C. office, interior designer Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), Atlanta, and restaurant designer Tony Chi and Associates, New York, dressed up this 329-room hotel with a grown-up brand of glamour that still sizzles.
Joint venture partners Mandarin Oriental International, Hong Kong, and Miami-based Swire Properties, part of Hong Kong's Swire Group, knew from the outset that the design would need to resolve apparent contradictions. After all, this was to be primarily a business hotel, but one sited at the entrance to the leisure/residential environment of Brickell Key. It is also Mandarin Oriental's first hotel on the East Coast. With aggressive expansion slated for the U.S., there was added pressure to convey brand continuity with Mandarin Oriental's signature Asian hotels without literally transplanting an Asian product to an urban Florida setting.
"Mandarin Oriental wanted a hotel that would depart from the expected while maintaining a sense of elegance and permanence. The role of design was to create a contemporary, uncluttered product that could still be warm and seductive," says, Jan Clausen, HBA's lead designer for the project.
HBA pumped up the design impact of the public spaces with shots of spicy Latin colors and a fresh, young mix of materials. Bright, Latin-inspired paintings commissioned for the guest rooms and corridors drive the pulsing aesthetic rhythms of the lobby throughout the 20-story hotel. Color makes big statements, as in the lipstick reds and sunny golds of the sinuously curved lobby seating. But it also adds unexpected interest with small touches, such as the strategic slashes of red and yellow in the luxuriant green of the lobby rugs.
Since Mandarin Oriental's visual style is more about whispering than shouting, HBA modulated the strong Latin influence with the serenity of Asian accents and suggestions of Spain. "Water, form, and light are key Asian design elements," says Karen McKenzie, a designer with HBA. "We found they integrated well with the Latin feeling. What guests see as they enter the hotel are rows of glowing columns clad with wildly patterned gold marble and black stones. But what they hear is the calming sound of the trickling water at the base of the columns."
This water theme is carried throughout the hotel, reappearing in the bubbling fountains and bay views of the spa's treatment suites, as well as in the rain showers of the deluxe spa suites that face the bay. Aqueous colors, from blue to green, cool the essentially neutral guest rooms and link Asian aquatic connotations of water with the immediacy of the bay.
Furnishings and fixtures are a fluid fusion of Asian and Latin design currents. Classic Asian elements get a contemporary make-over. "We laminated rice paper between sheets of glass for the guardrails, doors, and signage of the public areas, as well as in the glowing light boxes in the ballrooms," says Clausen. Bamboo is used traditionally, as in the rare black bamboo planting which forms a lacy screen between the lobby and the lobby lounge, or more symbolically, as in the abstract veining of the Spanish marble bathtubs. Layers of fabric saturated with bright colors in Junco Pollack's lobby sculpture, "Origami," synthesize the more complex aspects of Asian design with the vibrancy of Miami's Latin culture.
The interiors work hand-in-hand with RTKL's architecture to create a seamless experience. Inspired by the same blend of Asian, Latin, and marine influences, the architect created a gateway between Miami and Brickell Key. The sweeping profile of this $100 million project reflects the contradictions of the site itself—a fairly small area with an irregular footprint that had to accommodate not only a mid-sized room count with a minimum 485-sq.-ft. guest rooms, but also the state-of-the-art business, function, and spa services expected at any Mandarin Oriental hotel.
RTKL used these contrasts to create a dynamic design tension that unifies architecture and design. Rod Henderer, RTKL's vice president in charge of the project, and his team abstracted Mandarin Oriental's fan logo into a soaring building comprising three guest room blocks sheared in an upward sweep and linked by a curved podium of public spaces at the ground level. The orientation of the building suggests the difference in the experience to come by redefining the sense of arrival. The first aspect of the hotel that guests see along the driveway is not the main entrance but the copper-clad curves of what looks to be a freestanding restaurant, designed by Tony Chi and Associates.
To compensate for the lack of bay views on one side of the building, Henderer turned rooms parallel to the corridor. The feeling of spaciousness is as marketable as ocean views. "The guestrooms are very spacious compared to their competitors," says Jorge Gonzalez, the hotel's general manager. "The unique feature of the cutout with views between the bathroom and bedroom enhances the room. The hotel has been busy since opening and has already exceeded our occupancy expectations."
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