Contract: New Spaces and Products for Our Time

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Published in Contract, March 2019 (excerpts)

Hotel as Library

A handsome reading room isn’t going to be the deciding factor in booking a hotel but it can nevertheless give the property an edge with younger travelers. Interestingly, a Pew Research Center survey found that millennials are visiting brick-and-mortar libraries or bookmobiles more than any other adult generation. Whether it’s to appeal to that demographic or evoke a certain romanticism in a digital age, hotels are popping up with libraries meant to be used and some have literary references sprinkled throughout—from New York’s NoMad to Madrid’s Hotel Las Letras. In Cambridge, a British university city that loaded with literary connections—think Wordsworth, Marlowe, and Forster—Martin Brudnizki redesigned the University Arms Hotel to reflect this. It boasts an impressive library parlor outfitted with old-school mahogany wall paneling, radiused windows, nailhead leather-upholstered sofas, and a curated book collection. The guest rooms and suites hold cloth-bound classic novels, some of which are shelved in large bookcases that function as room dividers.

Fine Dining for Audiophiles

Music lovers with a discriminate ear—and palate—have a new restaurant typology and brand geared toward them: Spiritland. Make no mistake, this UK-based niche group isn’t in the business of launching typical dining spots where music becomes background noise, nor is it interested in opening nightclubs with a glorified food menu. Instead, it has three ventures—all designed in-house by creative director Patrick Clayton-Malone—which consist of a retail show selling high-end headphones and two dining establishments with bespoke, world-class sound systems that put music front and center. “Spiritland is dedicated to an exploration of the last 70 years of music, and is presented with excellence,” says artistic director Paul Noble. “We have music lovers playing the cream of their record collections on exceptional equipment, and we don’t have a dance floor.” At King’s Cross, Spiritland’s bar and cafe has a recording studio in plain sight that hosts podcasts, radio shows, and the occasional star: Jack White launched his latest album through a live broadcast from this very room. The larger Spiritland Royal Festival Hall, meanwhile, is a more formal restaurant that still makes music the main event. Programming at either location range from guest DJs to listening sessions with music-loving cultural figures such as Bill Nighy and Tom Dixon.

Workplaces into Cultural Hubs

Of course, the flexible workplace isn’t a new concept, but companies are still taking the concept to another level by opening up their multipurpose spaces to “outsiders.” The Annex, part of Berkeley-based creative marketing agency John McNeil Studio, not only accommodates the firm’s production operations—from filming to creating interactive media—it also literally opens to the public for exhibits, performances, and other engaging events. Envelope A+D designed the intriguing facade as operable pivoting walls, capable of exposing the gallery-like interior and its activities to the street. Meanwhile, the interior’s perimeter walls also pivot, revealing a variety of equipment and furnishings stashed away but ready at a moment’s notice for the aforementioned public events or special programming in conjunction with SF Design Week.

Coworking x Co-living

People may jest about bringing a sleeping bag to the office, but at Station F, a hub for startups and entrepreneurs, there’s a real blurring of the line between work- and home-life. Occupying a former 1920s freight hall, Station F, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, is its own ecosystem, providing members with every convenience they’d need: offices, coworking cafes, a makerspace, shared meeting rooms, a supermarket, recreational areas, a restaurant, and, naturally, community and opportunity. The space includes several extra-large custom-designed sofas, the result of a collaboration between Wilmotte and Ligne Roset. Even mega companies such as Facebook and Microsoft have a presence here, running or sponsoring their own onsite programs for select applicants. Soon, Station F will offer affordable housing for both local and international entrepreneurs as well. Just 15 minutes away, the co-living accommodations will make it easier for those members who burn the midnight oil, whether for better or worse. The residential complex—which comprises three towers, each with 100 apartments—is currently under construction with completion expected sometime this year.

Drinking and Not Driving

Now that the world is accustomed to the notion that robocars are well on their way to becoming a reality, it’s waking up to lofty ideas about other uses with technology. International design firm Carlo Ratti Associati, for one, recently conceived GUIDO, a driverless vehicle that, instead of transporting you to the party, brings the action right to you. Co-created with Makr Shakr, a leading producer of robotic bartenders, GUIDO is meant to be a mobile on-demand bar with two mechanical arms that can precisely and speedily prepare librations. Just like ride-hailing apps, GUIDO would hone in on and drive to the location of a thirsty patron ordering via mobile app. “GUIDO represents an experiment combining two technologies poised to impact our lives in the next few years: robotics and self-driving,” says Ratti. “And it offers an alternative to the ways people find enjoyment, imaging that different places can be activated letting people enjoy leisure time on their own streets.” Not to mention, if GUIDO ever cane to be, perhaps we’d fret less about finding a designated driver.