April 1, 2011

Icing on the Cake: Ateliers Jean Nouvel Designs A Modern Landmark In Vienna

For a city that clings proudly to its decorative past, Vienna now has a decidedly 21st-century landmark. Ateliers Jean Nouvel designed the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel as a kind of provocation—but also as a beacon. Located a several-minute walk over the Donau Kanal from the Stephansdom, Vienna’s majestic medieval cathedral, the $200 million building features asymmetrical volumes, planes intersecting­ at raking angles, and a heavy dose of both transparent and mirrored surfaces.

Priztker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel used striking bursts of color, too, courtesy of ceiling installations­ by video artist Pipilotti Rist. There’s one at the entry, one in the winter garden, and, most dramatically, one in the glassed-in penthouse restaurant, where kaleidoscopic fall foliage­ casts a golden amber glow that seems to extend out into the night. “The building is printed in the sky,” Nouvel says, going on to describe the restaurant’s ceiling as “a magic carpet floating over Vienna. It’s public art—with attitude.”

Interiors reflect Nouvel’s minimalist tastes, from the open lobby, with its charcoal-gray floor tiles and geometric furniture, to the 182 guest rooms done in gray, white, or black-and-white, except for the three that are all black-a palette he says he likes for its quality of “nothingness.” He designed most of?the rooms’ furnishings and fixtures, including the desks, seating, sinks, and tubs. Likewise his, the sliding-panel window system allows guests, as he puts it, “to curate the framing of?their view.” The real star at Nouvel’s Sofitel is always Vienna itself.

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