Interiors

Limes Hotel, Fortitude Valley

March 26, 2009

A boutique hotel designed by Alexander Lotersztain – the first Australian hotel to be opened under the Design Hotels brand – delivers a new social hub for Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

“Lifestyle not only expresses who we are, but helps transform us into who we want to be.” – Ian Schrager, ‘Godfather’ of the boutique hotel industry.

The boutique hotel phenomenon emerged in the mid 1980s in New York, London and elsewhere at much the same time as French sociologist Michel Maffesoli was writing The Time of Tribes: the Decline of Individualism in Mass Society (1988). Maffesoli observed a shift in traditional modes of individual identity in contemporary consumer cultures in favour of a social organisation composed of what he described as “affectual tribes”, unstable crystallisations navigating lifestyle cultures and identity politics characterised by an almost religious tribalism.

Boutique hotel is a slippery term, as slippery perhaps as ‘green’. The recently completed Limes Hotel in happening Fortitude Valley, Brisbane combines the two, providing ample material for semantic debate. ‘Funky chic’, ‘radical chic’, ‘über chic’ and ‘cheap chic’ have all been used to describe the particular sector of the boutique market targeted by the Limes, the common denominator being ‘chic’. Designer Alexander Lotersztain played an essential role in the definition of the project and in marketing a hotel that is both signifier of lifestyle choice and a particular place experience. His creative input extended beyond the conventional parameters of interior design to include a creative involvement in brand communication at all levels and advising on the hotel’s wider social program (most notably at the upper levels). Not surprisingly the hotel is kitted out almost exclusively with Lotersztain’s furniture and design items manufactured under his design label Derlot. To this existing product range he has also designed tailored hardware and fittings for the bathroom, and devised innovative and simple solutions to reduce the impact of mechanical services, IT and electrical installation; practical building details that could otherwise significantly impair a project so tight in program and space. Built on a tiny 260-square metre site, the hotel comprises 21 rooms topped by an outdoor cinema and sky lounge, a “green safe haven for the hip and style conscious traveller”.

It is something of an achievement for both Lotersztain and Brisbane that the Limes is the first Australian hotel opened under the global Design Hotel brand, with global nomads – a tribal market with seriously cool credentials – its target audience. It is also one of Australia’s more sustainable hotels, in a sea of otherwise high-waste, high-energy monsters. It is this merging of a designer aesthetic with green initiatives that makes this projects interesting. Although the building does not have a Green Building Council rating (being a building type that is currently unrateable), it does incorporate a number of sustainability features such as water tanks for the rooftop garden, the use of energy efficient lighting and appliances, recycling bins in all rooms (a small but virtually unique detail for the hotel business) and the specification of quality hard-wearing finishes to increase the durability of the interior fitout. In addition, carbon dioxide emissions have been offset through the purchase of carbon credits from Carbon Planet.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of the project is the absence of on-site car parking. This outcome was negotiated with Brisbane City Council due to the project brief and its proximity to both a major train station and public car parking facilities. It is a commendable solution for the urban renewal of small sites, which delivers significant density yields (site area: building area of 1:4) without an overbearing built form. Projects such as this also contribute in positive ways to the maintenance and development of the cultural life of the area, a fragile ecology that can be readily destroyed by large-scale development and intensive gentrification.

Whilst undeniably an actor in any gentrification process, projects such as the Limes provide opportunities for the types of social interaction that nourish the creative life of a city, both locally and globally. Prior to his involvement in the hotel industry, Ian Schrager, of Morgans, Royalton and Paramount Hotels (New York), the Delano Hotel (Miami) and Mondrian Hotel (West Hollywood), was the famed operator of nightclubs Studio 54 and the Palladium in New York. Working most notably with Philippe Starck, he broke with industry conventions of the time to create ‘lobby socialising’ where the public spaces of the hotel became a new type of space for the mingling of both residents of the city and its guests.

In Australia it was the Adelphi Hotel in Flinders Lane, Melbourne by Denton Corker Marshall that responded admirably to this global trend in the early 1990s. Meyers Place (1995) by Six Degrees, one of the first hole-in-the-wall laneway bars, was a contemporary of the Adelphi. The transformations of Melbourne’s inner city life that subsequently followed have been nothing less than revolutionary. The relationships created between these new hotel forms and the social, cultural, fashion and entertainment infrastructure of a city are symbiotic and mutually nourishing. As for the Limes, it “isn’t exactly a hotel: it’s a designer bar/cinema with contemporary rooms”.

The current ‘Brandscape’ (a term used by Anna Klingmann for the title of her 2007 book) of Brisbane, particularly in the Fortitude Valley area, is heavily defined by the music industry with the city being nominated by Billboard magazine as one of the top five international music hot spots in 2007. Collaborations between designers and inspired developers can do much to support the development and sustainability of the creative life of a city. The Limes is set to become such a place, a theatre for socialising and the cross-fertilisation of ideas amongst global nomads and tastemakers.

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