"nhow"? The strange name for the new hotel, which is pronounced 'now' refers to the Spanish hotel chain "nh" that operates business hotels throughout Europe. The hoteliers devised concepts for "nhow" hotels for two very special locations, namely Via Tortona in Milan and Berlin's Osthafen, both of which are destined to provide not only rooms for overnights but also host events. The result: spacious and above all flexible events areas that include a spectacular design. Berlin, for example, can cater to fashion shows, press conferences, product presentations and concerts – against a backdrop of a panorama view out over the River Spree. And the nhow already has the right neighbors in this regard: MTV and Viva, Universal Music and countless showrooms belonging to renowned fashion labels and design companies have of late moved to the banks of the Spree. Indeed, a few years ago Designmai, Fashion Week and Popkomm likewise discovered this very special location.
Yet Berlin's Osthafen is not really a prime address for a four-star hotel. It is a long way from the city's various centers, it tends to be devoid of humanity and has no elegant boulevards or gentrified in-scene bars. The old warehouses along the Spree nevertheless exude a rough-and-ready and decidedly urban charm. In the middle of the city, the broad panorama of the leisurely Spree suddenly opens to the eye – and the horizon suddenly extends well beyond the next building. The huge block-like warehouses on both sides of the river contrast sharply with this spacious expansiveness. And the design of the new hotel takes its cue from the monumental feel of these old buildings, behind whose thick walls perishable goods and grains were once stored.
The architects at nps tchoban voss chose beige-gray clinker brick for the facades, as if blends well with the historical ensemble. And the hard-edged shape fits in well, too, making the new edifice at first sight seem to be a single block, whereas it consists of an L and a U, the later on a two-storey pedestal and opening out to the Spree. Both wings are linked on the Stralauer Allee side, which sees heavy traffic, by a glass tract that is somewhat set back from the street and functions as the entrance. Here, the new building seems as solid and compact as the warehouses adjacent to it. A metal-clad block that rests on the clinker-brick building does not really stand out here.
On the riverbank side, the so-called "Upper Tower" projects 21 meters out from the facade. The section floats quite spectacularly in the air, completely without supports and thanks to the aluminum cladding, which reflects the Spree, seems truly weightless. Wall panels made of reinforced concrete provide the load-bearing anchorage and are reminiscent of crane structures in ports the world over. A factory building on the opposite shore in the Kreuzberg, was given extra floors in a similar manner, albeit without the structural ingenuity. Will Alsop has already shown us how such horizontal extensions can function – in Düsseldorf's port, and MVRDV used the artifice for a residential block in Amsterdam; nevertheless the immense projecting structure still take one's breath away. At the nhow, two recording studios are located in this "superstructure", the one digital, the other analog, as is an exclusive suite. The recording facilities (operated in conjunction with the legendary Hansa studios) a guitar room service, iPod docking stations in the 300-plus rooms and countless music videos on the hotel TV channel are all destined to make the nhow the first "music hotel".
However, the hotel hopes to attract not only musicians and groupies as guests. The pedestal building is powered to handle all manner of events. In contrast to the solid-state clinker-brick walls, the pedestal has generous glazing and the conference rooms, lobby and restaurant all offer great panorama views of the riverscape. If your eyes are not distracted by the interior. Because the nhow has prioritized spectacular design. In a city in which a new major hotel seems to open every month, design is supposed to be the USP and above all kindle attention. Karim Rashid was commissioned to deliver. And he has designed everything down to the smallest detail, from the 14m-long reception desk and the room furnishings down to the bed linen. In the spirit of a Verner Panton or Luigi Colani, here colors and organic shapes predominate, flanked by graphic details that reference the computer age.
In Berlin, the "pink hotel" swiftly became the talk of the town – almost every room boasts pink, even if the design of each hotel wing has its own color scheme. The responses to the in part shocking colors (e.g., the unicolor radiantly bright elevators or the pink or rose bath tubs), vary as much as do personal tastes. The restaurant with massive white, grass green details and a pink wall that together meld in harmony is outstanding. Elegant coolness meets vibrant colors, complementary contrasts create a sense of balance for all the intensity of the pink and green. In other rooms, other toned-down colors, digital patterns and other materials have been added, such that the combinations often seem random, not to say banded together without rhyme or reason.
The interior design and architecture are essentially working against each other here. The clear, cubist formal idiom developed by nps tchoban voss contrasts sharply with the round, organically vivacious interior. This results in beautiful juxtapositions, such as the long standalone reception desk in the lobby, which lends the room a certain spaciousness. In the lounge zone, however, the organic curves of the seating groups seem a little lost, as the room is too high and wide, and the layout of the circle ignores the view of the River Spree. The bar area adjacent to it actually seems so over-full that you would immediately like to start moving the furniture about. The overall impression is that everything must have been designed on-screen without any reference to the reality of the place. Moreover, a lot of the furniture, in particular the display cases with their freeformed cut-outs, the room dividers in the suites, and the washstands, all seem organic at first sight. In truth, the designs have evidently been dreamed up in two dimensions only, and therefore have a strangely flat feel to them. The line dividing computer simulation and physical reality is simply not that fluid. A sense of the qualities of the place is not something even a Karim Rashid can simulate at a computer.