WHAT do you remember from your last stay in a hotel? Was it the subtle welcome of a doorman in a pore cohere, the effortless elegance of a reception desk, the dark glamour of a cocktail bar? Or, like me, do you remember walking down a maze of corridors with no windows, fiddling with a credit-card key, seeing your name incorrectly spelled on the TV screen (Welcome! Mrs Kieran Logn!), then trying for 15 minutes to work out how to turn off the lights? London is in the throes of a hotelbuilding boom, and operators and architects are trying to figure out how to achieve some of the glamour of the former experience, despite limited budgets and the time constraint of providing enough hotel capacity to serve the Olympic games in 2012.
There are 13,000 hotel rooms being built or in the pipeline in London right now, by a distance more than anywhere else in Europe. Many more have already been completed, as the weak pound encourages tourism from the Far East.
The most glamorous name of all the new hotels currently under construction in London is a single letter: W. The W Hotel chain began life on Lexington Avenue in New York and will open its first London hotel in the autumn on a site that needs some decent architecture: Leicester Square. The [pounds sterling]200 million building occupies the site of the former Swiss Centre on the western corner of the square and will be animated by changing coloured lights behind a sophisticated-looking glass veil. It will elevate the tawdry glamour of the Leicester Square tourist trap and should also provide one of the few civilised places to have a drink in the area.
Other good looking hotels on the drawing board include the dignified Greenwich Peninsula Hotelby architect Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands next to the Millennium Dome, the first building in that area that actually looks as if it belongs in London. The Smithfield restaurant St John will open a boutique hotel later this year around the corner from the W off Leicester Square in a historic Georgian building. In south London, the recently completed brick mini-tower of the H10 hotel near Waterloo, designed by Maccreanor Lavington, has an urban intention that is clear and well-judged in this diverse part of town.
There are also one or two proposals that sound so bad they may even be good. Reardon Smith Architects, which is also working on the long-running refurbishment of the Savoy, has made an unlikely alliance with superstar artist Antony Gormley on a boutique hotel proposal in Mayfair. Part of the building will be a giant, abstract Gormley sculpture of a human torso, inside which will be one of the nuttier bedrooms in the city. The developer of this 75-room hotel is the team behind the exclusive Ivy restaurant.
At the tacky but expensive end of the scale is the world’s largest floating hotel, called Aquiva, which will be docked just south of Canary Wharf in time for 2012. There will be 158 suites in the 170m-long vessel, which, despite its speedboat-like form, has no engines and needs to be pulled into place by tugs.
Hackney council, meanwhile, has given planning permission to the controversial Art’otel tower by the same architect, on the western corner of the Shoreditch conservation area, despite criticism of the design from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the borough’s own design review panel (of which, I should declare, I’m a member). …