Posts Tagged ‘Cheektowaga’

Photo: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg
The cocktail island in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Can today’s architecture compete with the hotel atriums of the past? Does it want to?

There’s something about elegant hotel atriums that carries one back to times gone by. Their ideal temperature must be horrendous to maintain, but they do give a traveler a feeling of being special.

Our family’s all-time favorite atrium was in a Sheraton Hotel in notably unspecial Cheektowaga, New York. The rooms gave onto a warm, landscaped pool area where ducklings and bunnies were added at Easter. Maintaining the trees so that they stayed the right size for the space was challenging, I imagine.

Anthony Paletta at Bloomberg CityLab has more about that.

“If you’re craning your neck as severely when you step inside a building as you did outside it, you might be in an atrium hotel, an intensely American structure for sleep, conferences, cocktails, and much more. These are facilities built around a massive central chamber stretching a dozen or several dozen stories into the sky; at the lobby level, you’ll find bars, restaurants, gardens, live birds, and maybe even a boat or two.

“We don’t build them much anymore, but Americans invented, perfected and exported this unique building style to the world (where it continues to prosper). Birthed in brash excess, atrium hotels were first seen as too gaudy by the modernist architectural establishment and as too profligate by penny-pinching chain hoteliers. To varying observers, they suggest everything from Disney to dystopia. But in their heyday, these buildings promised — and delivered — a spectacle like no other. 

“Real estate developer Trammell Crow, the man with the most Dallas-sounding name you’ve ever heard, provided early inspiration for the form with his Dallas Trade Mart atrium, built in 1958. But it was Atlanta architect-developer John Portman, his occasional partner, who adapted and built the form into a colossus. Portman’s Hyatt Recency Atlanta opened in 1967, and was an immediate sensation. Atriums became a signature of the Hyatt Regency brand, and Portman went on to work for a variety of other chains, including Marriott and Westin.

“Portman wasn’t taking half measures with his hotels. Consider their majestic heights: his first, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta: 22 stories; Marriott Marquis in New York City: 37 stories; Marriott Marquis Atlanta: 50 stories. Only Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, which opened in 1999, eventually topped Portman’s tallest atrium.  …

“The atrium is an ancient architectural feature. It’s fairly rare in skyscrapers, however, as it inevitably involves a waste of leasable space. There are a few direct hospitality antecedents: The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, built in 1892, boasts a seven-story atrium topped with stained glass, and the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Indiana, which opened in 1902, features a 200-foot diameter atrium.

“Portman’s first atrium wasn’t in a hotel at all, but in the now-demolished Antoine Graves public housing tower in Atlanta, built in 1965. The idea was simple, says Mickey Steinberg, a structural engineer on many of Portman’s early projects. The architect was just trying to provide some sociable space and ventilation to tenants. (The building was not air conditioned.)

‘If I had a hole down the center of the building,’ Steinberg recalls Portman saying, ‘people could come out and talk to each other and I might be able to get some air through the building.’

“That notion recurred to Portman two years later for the Hyatt Regency. ‘It wasn’t any grand philosophy about a style of architecture,’ Steinberg says. ‘He was designing for people to want to be there.’

“He was also designing for people who might not have wanted to be in Atlanta, whose central business district was in decline. Steinberg recalled Portman’s intention: ‘I’m going to create a space for them to want to be in, because downtown Atlanta doesn’t have it anymore.’ …

“The atrium concept didn’t initially enthrall the moneymen, Steinberg says. …

“[But] a then-unknown savior turned up in the form of Don Pritzker, whose nascent Hyatt chain then had only three locations. That bet paid off once the Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened: Visits to the hotel in the first four months of operation exceeded their expectation of the first five years. Guests lined up just to go up and down in the glass elevators. …

“Sheer space was a vast lure, opening up the typical dark double-loaded urban hotel corridor, Steinberg says. ‘It was different than having a little bitty lobby where you enter and then you take an elevator to where you’re shelved.’ …

“As new construction, you are now likelier to see atrium hotels in the Middle East or Asia. Still, the company that pioneered the form remains enthusiastic about its virtues. ‘This concept changed the idea of what a hotel experience could be by converting lobbies from transactional spaces that guests passed through on their way to check in or check out,’ Sarah Klymson, vice-president of product and brand development at Hyatt, wrote in a statement. ‘The architectural form of atrium hotels acts as a stage that can evolve.’ “

More at CityLab, here.

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