Color Me Rad
Matteo Thun designs interiors infused with color and light for the SIDE Hotel in Hamburg.
Jeff Hill -- Interior Design, 10/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
It seems as if with each passing year the ante were upped on the design of ever more extravagant, splashy hotels. Matteo Thun's work for the interior of the new SIDE Hotel in Hamburg is a worthy addition to this trend, a hotel at once comfortable and luxurious yet indubitably strange and otherworldly. Throughout, the designer employs startling combinations of colors and materials, as well as vivid light installations, in a manner that inevitably recalls his past affiliation with Ettore Sottsass. The architect worked initially for Sottsass Associati before going on to become one of the founding members of Memphis, the outré firm that dominated Italian design in the 1980s.
Located in the heart of Hamburg, the SIDE Hotel is the first five-star project of the Seaside Group. After visiting the Paramount in New York, the Delano in Miami, and the Metropolitan in London, Gregor Gerlach, manager of the Seaside Hotels in Germany, decided that Hamburg needed its own version of the boutique genre. The design of the building itself was given to Alsop & Störmer, a renowned German architectural firm, but it is Thun's brash interpretation of the interiors that elevates this project beyond the average, albeit luxury hospitality gig.
Appropriately, the drama begins with the hotel's entry sequence, which features a dazzling light installation conceived by Thun in collaboration with New York-based artist and theater director Robert Wilson. The atrium is 118 ft. high and faced with panels of frosted blue glass within a grid framework. Behind the glass surface, horizontal light fields are caught in an interplay with bold diagonal LED light lines. The illuminated effects were "composed" by Wilson using a computer program that controls the activity of the various light sources. "The idea was to capture the experience of the visitor," comments Thun. "To catch the fleeting feeling of a short stay in an apparently empty space that, minute-by-minute, changes in its light dramaturgy." The exuberant use of colored lights is also employed in the hotel's elevator cabins (see page 347 for more information).
Throughout the hotel, Thun exploited contrasts between rough and smooth, natural and high-tech, matte and shiny. "We wanted to use materials that remained true to their nature," explains project leader Anette Schäfer. "Wood and stone, for example, are never polished, but left in their natural, rough state. But with 'artificial' materials—metal or glass, say—we emphasized their highly finished, shiny qualities." The SIDE Hotel's restaurant and Fusion bar are excellent examples of this design concept in action. Seating throughout is upholstered in bright red leather. For the bases and the floors, however, Thun used comparatively raw, untreated wenge and sucupira woods. Behind the bar, the wall is surfaced with polished stainless steel. A series of video monitors floats above, showing an oversized, abstracted image of an aquarium filled with fish. Similar monitors are installed throughout the hotel, in the restaurant, lobby, and conference area.
The SIDE Hotel's gym is anything but spartan; indeed, it is an especially color-saturated environment. It features a wall of light boxes displaying a blown-up grid of video pixelation; within a single square of each panel one sees the actual image from which the blow-up was derived. "The concept," Schäfer says, "was simply to make the picture bigger, to the extent that it became an abstraction of pixels." Only a stone's throw from the swimming pool is yet another lounge area (the SIDE Hotel is very rich in them). Recessed booths contain banquettes upholstered in a silver synthetic material. These walls alternate between brilliantly colored, highly polished lacquer finishes and unpolished walnut surfaces, carrying forth the basic design concept of juxtaposition between natural and man-made materials.
Inevitably, questions arise concerning the relationship between Thun's current architectural and design practice and his past affiliation as one of the key figures in Sottsass' Memphis, a group dedicated to "anti-design." "Matteo's style has evolved a great deal since the Memphis days," Schäfer continues. "Now, it's more about the reduction to a simple, basic language of style, even minimal." Nevertheless, the SIDE Hotel, for all its streamlined panache, is still filled with "memories of the Memphis style," she adds. "The Supersassi seating used in the eighth-floor Color Lounge and also in the hotel corridors is definitely a Memphis echo." So too is the color scheme in the gym—the clash of colors is "typical Memphis." As such, the SIDE Hotel represents a further step in the evolution of Thun's questing design spirit, even as it contains mementos of his wild-and-crazy past.