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05.18.2012
Feature> Artful Lodger
Monica Ponce de Leon transforms the public spaces of a downtown New York hotel.
The public stair from street level.
Timothy Hursley

An interior public space often creates interesting opportunities for experimentation. When it’s a hotel serving multiple publics those opportunities, and challenges, multiply. In Lower Manhattan, the new Conrad Hotel, replacing the former Embassy Suites and now owned by Goldman Sachs, presented architect Monica Ponce de Leon of Monica Ponce de Leon Studio (MPdL) with an impressive but monumental lobby and public space in need of definition. As a right-of-way for the neighborhood of Battery Park City, the space had to remain open and accessible at all times. Thus stairs, leading up to a second-level lobby, became an important part of the equation, as did a grand, multi-story Sol LeWitt painting that hangs in the center of the space.

In order to contain the potential oppressiveness of the 14-story open space while maintaining the clarity of the volume, MPdL (and executive architects KPF) worked with Feature Walters to fabricate fiberglass strands anchored to tension rings and organized in ghostly shapes suspended overhead that fill the space visually without sacrificing the liberating sense of height. Stone paving furthers the feeling of a plaza, and even the hefty size of the metal handrails belong to the language of public space. Because the space is so tall, “it truly feels public,” Ponce de Leon said. “If it were two stories, it would not.”

Sol LeWitt’s installation.
 

The building’s physical engagement with the urban fabric is complex. On entry, visitors only get a glimpse of the Sol LeWitt which is oriented at a diagonal to the front door. Only on climbing the stairs is it gradually revealed as it draws people up to a public landing with furniture in the shape of curvaceous sectional sofas where lobby surfers are already happily ensconced.

Matt Shaw

 

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The central atrium from above (left) and An upper-level staircase (right).