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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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Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
Candice Payne, “a regular person,” rented hotel rooms for more than 100 homeless people in Chicago — and strangers followed her lead — as temperatures headed way below freezing.

A Chicago real estate broker, a self-styled “little black girl from the South Side,” had a moment when she just couldn’t bear to see a particular bad thing happen.

The temperature in Chicago was about to go way below zero last week, and Candice Payne started thinking about the people in the city’s homeless camp. Here’s what can result when “a regular person” realizes that empathizing while doing nothing is not an option.

Sandra E. Garcia has the story at the New York Times.

“As temperatures plunged to life-threatening lows this week, more than 100 homeless people in Chicago unexpectedly found themselves with food, fresh clothes and a place to stay after a local real estate broker intervened.

“The broker, Candice Payne, 34, said it was a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ decision to help. ‘It was 50 below, and I knew they were going to be sleeping on ice and I had to do something,’ she said on Saturday.

“Ms. Payne contacted hotels and found 30 rooms available at the Amber Inn for Wednesday night at $70 per room. …

“After Ms. Payne paid for the rooms on a credit card, she asked on her Instagram account for anyone who could help transport the homeless people. Soon she had a caravan of cars, S.U.V.s and vans with volunteer drivers.

“ ‘We met at tent city, where all the homeless people set up tents and live on the side of the expressway,’ Ms. Payne said. … She asked as many people as she could to go with her to the Amber Inn as donations were pouring in to her Cash App account. …

“ ‘We had to accommodate everyone. It was really overwhelming,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘They were so appreciative. They couldn’t wait to get in a bath and lay in a bed.’

“Ms. Payne bought toiletries, food, prenatal vitamins, lotions, deodorants and snacks and made care packages to help make the people feel comfortable. Restaurants donated trays of food, and many people called the inn. …

“ ‘People from the community, they all piggyback off Candice,’ said Robyn Smith, the manager of the Amber Inn. ‘Other people started calling and anonymously paying for rooms,’ she added, and Ms. Smith lowered the price to accommodate more people. What started out as 30 rooms doubled to 60, Ms. Smith said. …

‘I am a regular person,’ Ms. Payne said. ‘It all sounded like a rich person did this, but I’m just a little black girl from the South Side. I thought it was unattainable, but after seeing this and seeing people from all around the world, that just tells me that it’s not that unattainable. We can all do this together. …

“ ‘This was a temporary fix, and it has inspired me to come up with more of a permanent solution.’ ”

Talk about the Power of One! Here’s hoping that the state’s wealthy governor, who called Payne to offer his praise, gets on board with a permanent solution.

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Book and Bed Tokyo

As you may know, there are hotels made of ice and vacation accommodations in tree houses and tiny houses, but have you heard that in Tokyo, you can bed down in a bookshelf?

As Dominique Mosbergen reports at the Huffington Post, “There’s nothing better than cozying up in bed with a good book … or, as in the case of this Japanese hostel, a few thousand of them.

“Book and Bed is a small, 30-bed hostel in Tokyo where guests sleep in snug little cubbies hidden behind library shelves laden with books. (The word ‘snug’ may even be generous here, as the larger of the two room offerings measures just 6 by 4 feet).”

The hostel’s website is honest, Mosbergen reports. “ ‘The perfect setting for a good night’s sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets,’ the establishment warns. …

” ‘What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book). An experience shared by everyone at least once — the blissful “instant of falling asleep.” It is already 2 a.m. but you think just a little more … with heavy drooping eyelids you continue reading’ …

“It costs upwards of $34 a night to stay at Book and Bed. Each room comes with a simple mattress and reading light. There’s also free Wi-Fi.” More here.

As much as I love to read, I’m not sure I’m adventurous enough to sleep in a bookshelf. If I ever go to Japan, a traditional ryokan would probably have more appeal.

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Washington-Sq-is-where-I-came-inWashington Square, New York City

Random photos from my travels.

My husband going into the Public Theater to see classmate Ted Shen’s musical, A Second Chance. The Playbill for the show. A delightful chandelier at the Public, with paddles that illuminate changing phrases.

Subway buskers playing a grandson’s favorite song, “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Grand Central Station. The charming Iroquois Hotel. A flower-themed mosaic in the Lexington Ave. subway.

Gertrude Stein looking like herself in Bryant Park. And the Metropolitan Museum, where we saw a great photography show with my sister and brother-in-law. More on that later.

(Be watching for the relaunch of the Luna & Stella website, where one of the family pictures is of my sister at age 3, pictured with Suzanne’s maternal grandfather. … Did I mention this is a blog for Suzanne’s birthstone-jewelry company Luna & Stella?)

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