Big Apple Slices: OTTE Architecture and artist Chris Rubino take guests on a tour of 10 New York neighborhoods—all without leaving the building.
By Matthew Hall
Guests routinely play a game of “name that neighborhood” while riding the elevators at the Distrikt Hotel in New York. That’s because every time the door opens on one of the 31 guest floors, the view changes—thanks to original photo collages by artist Chris Rubino. The 8-by-4-ft. murals honor several Manhattan neighborhoods, an idea hatched by OTTE Architecture as one way to make the Midtown property stand out from a cluster of nearby competitors.
The New York theme is both “engaging and experiential” for guests, says Michael Lisowski, OTTE’s co-owner. That approach began with the unusual spelling of hotel’s name—Distrikt is the Dutch word for “districts,” a nod to Manhattan’s early colonial settlers—along with wood carvings and other visual references to the althea flower, which once blossomed throughout the hotel’s neighborhood. The new-build, 155-key hotel is a member of Choice Hotels International’s Ascend Collection.
OTTE also installed New York touches in the hotel’s lobby, including a 14-ft.-tall “living wall” of green plants arranged in the rectangular shape of Central Park and a hand-carved wooden wall installation behind the reception desk that bears patterns reflecting the city’s street grid. But it’s the photo collages that serve as the centerpiece of the hotel’s home-grown visual theme.
“When we met with Chris about this project, he recognized that we wanted to capture the essence of the districts while avoiding the cliché and pastiche,” says Lisowski, who also credits his firm’s David Lisowski, Michael Smith and Glen Fernandez for making major contributions to the project. “He spoke passionately about the city and how we could represent it in a unique manner, and we were instantly sold.”
After getting the gig, Rubino went through roughly 10,000 photos that OTTE staffers had taken throughout the city and distilled them into visual mash-ups of 10 neighborhoods: Chelsea, Central Park, the Financial District, Harlem, the Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, Soho, Tribeca and The Village. The hallway collages, which intermix images of the skyline, street signs and local landmarks from each neighborhood, were installed in lightboxes lit by internal fluorescent fixtures and sheathed in Plexiglas.
“We looked into a variety of methods for mounting these works, and found that the lightboxes really brought the images to life,” says Rubino, who notes that the displays also serve a secondary, utilitarian purpose: as light sources for the elevator lobbies. In addition, because the collages all have a distinct color scheme, the light reflecting off each one varies from floor to floor. “That means each floor has its own distinct color identity,” he says.
OTTE’s Lisowski noted that designers also incorporated the murals into the décor of the guest rooms, but only in the form of small swatches hung in picture frames. “The rooms are meant to be a break from the city’s hustle and bustle, so we didn’t inundate them with New York imagery,” he explains.
However, pieces of the murals play a much more prominent role in Collage, the hotel’s on-site restaurant. There, Rubino created two 22-ft.-by-8-ft. wall installations consisting of vertical strips of images taken from the collages on the guest room floors alternated with accent stripes bearing the althea flower graphic used throughout the hotel. The idea behind those wall coverings, designers say, is to whet patrons’ appetite for exploring the hotel’s other New York-themed visual elements.
Jennifer Rota, the hotel’s general manager, notes that all of the property’s Big Apple-based visual features play a central role in the property’s ongoing marketing efforts, both online and on-site. “For example, we have animated the collages on our web site to help convey the idea behind The Distrikt,” Rota says. “And when guests check in, they’re not simply given a floor and a room number—instead, they’re told which neighborhood they’ll be staying in and receive an address that’s also referenced on their ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. The hotel’s New York-themed elements, big and small, are designed to add up to unique, memorable experience for our guests.”
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