From sailors and office workers, to drug addicts and runaways, chinese artists and students, and now to glamorous hotel guests, the “pizza box” building in NY’s Chelsea is another piece of architecture that has learnt to adapt well to its users. Like the BBC explained in their series How Buildings Learn, not all architecture stands the test of time and does it well. I visited the Maritime Hotel to see how the 1968 built headquarters for the National Maritime Union has become one of the most desirable places to stay at during this week’s NY Fashion Week at over $400 per night.
Already from the outside, the nautical-themed landmark, designed by New Orleans architect Albert Ledner (a modernist who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright), is hard to miss due to its distinct porthole windows and white-tiled exterior. In fact, a great effort is being made to conserve the original round windows, and skilled craftsmanship is required every time a window needs fixing. Nice to see that they actually also open and close, unlike many windows in new hotel buildings.
Inside, the 121 rooms reflect the nautical spirit which I realised has quite a lot in common with LifeEdited due to the clever use of space. The rooms are inspired by a ship’s cabin: large porthole windows, natural wood furniture and wall panelling, and only rounded edges and flat surfaces (see cabinets below). This shows that good design doesn’t need much space or materials.
The mini-bar is an attractive assortment of local products, from Brooklyn cookies to the Maritime umbrella and (in case you get really wet) the save-a-phone (repair rather than recycle!), designed by one of the Maritime’s employees!
I was assured that the hotel serves in-house bottled water, only washes towels and sheets when guests decide to, uses real cutlery and dishes and has biodegradable flatware to go, prints as little leaflets as possible on recycled paper with soy ink, and, has all its waste recycled. I was even shown their inhouse “digester”, a composting machine, although nobody could really tell me why it was there since they don’t actually use the compost for their garden.
In order not to make major changes to the structure of the building, it was decided not to have a service elevator. The 3 original lifts are therefore used by staff and guests together, which probably makes their use more efficient.
According to the Maritime Hotel, their 10,000-square-foot garden with its impressive magnolia trees is the largest outdoor space of any hotel in NYC. It doesn’t take much to see that if you treat a building and its interior well, it lasts longer and ages well. The hotel owners, Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, are also responsible for the design and conservation of this building and its stories. Mr Goode is wearing many hats, as he is also known for his battles to save the plowshare, an endangered tortoise (read Slow and Steady in The New Yorker).