A good getaway sometimes comes down to great design and architecture. These hotels offer a unique mix of experiences, ranging from highly-trained bot staff, unobtrusive and sleek functional design, to carbon footprint-conscious luxury.
1. For the eco-conscious
1 Hotels, Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge, New York
How can you achieve sustainability in style? This eco-conscious chain of hotels shows the way. The first hotel opened in South Beach, Miami, in 2015, followed by the second one in Manhattan, a block away from Central Park, last August, and the third in Brooklyn in February.
It sets the bar high on all the green Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) indicators. The Manhattan hotel has over 24,000 plants. The ivy on the facade, a typical New York aesthetic, is designed by AgroSci, a design firm that specializes in green living walls and units. The lobby abounds with planters, terrariums and magnificent driftwood artwork. Doors, windows, tables have been made with reclaimed wood, fallen branches and twigs. The clothes hangers are made of compressed recycled paper.
1 Hotels Brooklyn Bridge is set on the East River, with views of Lower Manhattan. A 25ft-high wall rises high in the lobby. The mattresses in rooms are made of hemp. Rainwater-conservation systems and water-purification systems, with drinking water being triple purified, limit the use of plastic bottled water. Wind energy plants have been set up. The earthy, unembellished vibe makes these hotel properties a spectacular, eco-sensitive haven in the middle of a concrete jungle like New York.
2. For the starchitect fan club
Silken Puerta América, Madrid
With 14 floors, each designed by a different iconic architect, the Silken Puerta América hotel is a sensory overdose for architecture and design enthusiasts.
British architect Norman Foster takes inspiration from the late Spanish Basque sculptor, Eduardo Chillida, to create an interplay of organic forms and understated luxury. A first-floor suite designed by the late Zaha Hadid simulates a cave, with not a single sharp edge in sight. In her signature style, Hadid employed the best of digital design and manufacturing techniques to create a seamless space-scape.
The prolific Australian-British designer Marc Newson, who has tackled everything from an aircraft to a pen, has fashioned the luxe red-lacquered wall interiors, as well as Marmo, the cocktail bar. Each floor is conceptually different in shape, colour, material and sensibility.
French architect Jean Nouvel has designed the penthouse with glass printed screens, creating a montage of art, film and pattern, composing bizarre and surreal imagery.
Another iconic British architect, David Chipperfield, plays with light, using it to create a monochromatic experience of black and white, with some unusual material choices, like terracotta detailing. There’s a geometric labyrinth of reflective surfaces by the London-based Plasma Studio and Israeli designer-artist Ron Arad sets off this rigidity with his interplay of curved, sinuous shapes.
3. For the stargazers
The Treehotel, Sweden
In this north Sweden village, set amidst woodland and a remote Nordic landscape, the Treehotel offers a set of uber-designed tree houses. The rooms are 13-20ft above the ground so guests can perch right between the trees. There’s a pod-shaped UFO room, and one with mirrored facades for the ultimate camouflage, creating an endless reflection of the surrounding woods. Yet another is designed with wood-cladding exteriors to resemble a bird’s nest. These units have features like electric-powered combustion toilets that incinerate waste at high temperatures.
Sweden’s northern stretches are ideal for viewing the magnificent Aurora Borealis. In January, the Treehotel added the 7th Room, designed by Oslo-based Snøhetta, an architecture and landscape firm, specifically to observe the Northern Lights. The 7th Room is made of charred timber cladding, set high on columns and made with traditional Nordic architectural techniques, like wrapping the structure around the trunk of a tree. The underside of the tree house has aluminium sheets, with life-size imagery of trees and forests. Large, open, north-facing windows and skylights and a patio with a suspended net provide panoramic views of the landscape and the Northern Lights.
4. For the AI trippers
Henn na, Nagasaki
Only the Japanese could have created the world’s first robot-staffed and Artificial Intelligence-led hotel. Opened in 2015, Henn na—”strange hotel”—is experimenting with robots in the service industry. So this smart technology hotel puts robots on the front reception desk and employs facial-recognition features for checking into rooms. The robot staff is an absurd mix of a dinosaur and a woman at the front desk, a mechanical porter to take your luggage around, a mechanical arm to access lockers and a doll-like figure called Churi Chan who sits in each of the rooms as the personal concierge, among others. It has been designed in collaboration with the University of Tokyo’s Kawazoe lab, which researches subjects at the intersection of technology, architecture and design. Henn na has generated mixed reviews, understandably so, for its use of such an extreme level of artifice to create an experience that’s all about the personal, hospitable human touch.
5. For the adventure-bound
Skylodge, Natura Vive, Peru
The Skylodge experience involves climbing over 400ft using via ferrata, a rock-climbing technique in which a steel cable and ladder is fastened against an almost vertical rock face, to reach three transparent pods attached to the mountainside at a height of over 1,200ft. En route to Machu Picchu, and overlooking the magnificent Sacred Valley, the Skylodge Adventure Suites, which launched in 2013, is run by Peru-based tour company Natura Vive. It has already entered the bucket list of intrepid travellers.
Made of aerospace aluminium and a weather-resistant polycarbonate material, each of the three transparent pods is equipped with a toilet, sink and dining table and can accommodate four people.
The dizzying experience is not for everyone, but it’s a must-try for those seeking the thrill of spending a night under a star-filled sky, in a breezy valley, while being suspended from a cliff that overlooks the meandering Urubamba River below