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The Plaza Deconstructed

What's next for Urban Getaways? Challenge by Frame Magazine

“Man loves man so much that when he flees the city, it is still to seek the crowd, that is, to rebuild the city in the country.”


Charles Baudelaire


The 2020 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the hospitality sector in unprecedented ways. The impact has been felt more acutely in urban settings where open spaces are scarce and where the quintessential experience is inspired and driven by the density and intensity of city life. For all city lovers, this lifestyle is now, as the result of the pandemic, the epitome of the reckless behaviour that leads to super-spreader events and massive contagion.


For over a hundred years, cities have consolidated not just as economic hubs, but as the centre of culture, fashion, art, and design, to quote American historian Lewis Mumford the chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity”. Around the world, cities have forged our collective future by ingeniously crafting and devising new ways of interacting among ourselves and the environment, true to context and culture, with the hues specific to their latitude, climate, and history, but always future-oriented, progressive, and innovative.


The question now posed by the pandemic is, can the countryside emerge as the alternative for a new collective ground? For half a decade, leading voices in Architecture seem to believe so. In an almost premonitory way, Rem Koolhaas curated in February 2020 the exhibition “Countryside, The Future” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the exhibition “explores radical changes in the rural, remote, and wild territories collectively identified here as countryside, or the 98% of the Earth’s surface not occupied by cities.”


The dust of the pandemic is yet to settle to be able to fully examine the impact on city life and to confirm the establishment of the emerging trends such as the consolidation of the home-office, the collapse of the office space as a monothematic typology, and the cementing of Airbnb as the new hegemonic new normal for hospitality. One thing is certain; cities will continue to find ways for reinventing themselves and in doing so will continue to attract business, redefine cultures and act as an inspiration to artists and designers.


If the above holds true, an invigorated hospitality sector should follow suit reinventing experiences, challenging conventions and in doing so attracting the curious minds that still feed from being at the centre, witnessing and enacting changes first-hand. This has led us to imagine a post-pandemic vision full of possibilities, daring in nature and rooted in the sense of wonder, tradition, and luxury that defined an entire era.


Our research for a spatial response takes us to The Plaza Hotel in New York City an icon of urban hospitality. The Plaza is the quintessential urban hotel; rated by many specialist publications as the most iconic hotel in the world, it is the perfect ground to test ideas and explore design alternatives towards a post-pandemic future.


“New hotels are exciting, for sure, but nothing can compare to the grand dames of the world: the handful of century-old institutions that have set global standards for luxury and hospitality.”


The Plaza, a century-old landmark, first opened in 1907, has succeeded throughout the years in reinventing itself and adapting to different eras including the 1929 great depression and the prohibition era. The design by Henry Hardenbergh captures the French renaissance style along with the marble arcades, golden corniches, and crystal chandeliers. The last renovation in the early 2000s saw the conversion of the northern and eastern wings of the hotel into residences.


Our approach has mapped the public programme of the building, including some of the now gone signature rooms such as The Persian Room, Oak Bar and the original Hardenbergh Ball Room and consolidated it into a mass to use as our raw material. By adding the entire area, we learn that the public programme of the hotel accounts to just below 7% of the total built area.


Other than the public programme, the biggest deficit in urban hotels is the amount of open, out-door spaces; never was this more critical than during the course of the pandemic. Our case study, The Plaza Hotel features an inner courtyard on the fifth floor with fountains and gardens, but this space is mostly contemplative. Along with the public venues of the hotel, we find an opportunity to grow and recalibrate the public-private proportion of available space.


In this same line of enquiry, we notice that when opened, The Plaza with its 20 stories was the tallest building in its block, a century later, 50 story skyscrapers dwarf our icon and make us wonder about the possibilities to reimagine this available space.


We envisage a new ground on top of the building, activating the rooftops and triplicating the available public, open space programme. These new grounds capture the essence of the emblematic rooms and venues, the ceremonial beauty, and the sense of awe and wonder, reinterpreted into an open-air version. In part contemplative, in part programmatic we imagine a new Palm Court, a reimagined Persian Room, and a contemporary Oak Room. Our reimagined signature rooms will be surrounded by green areas, ludic swimming pools, shopping arcades, and observation points. Bridges and Staircases will connect spaces with broad views of Central Park and the city beyond.


“The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it.”


Charles Baudelaire

Project Team: 
Lead Architects: Rolando Rodriguez-Leal, Natalia Wrzask

Design Team: Mariano González Silva, Emilio Vasquez Hoppenstedt, Rodrigo Wulf Sanchez


All images copyright by AIDIASTUDIO

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