Hotels are finally wising up to the fact that the one-look-fits-all philosophy isn’t attractive to design-savvy travelers, who’d rather choose a room with local flavor over a chainy cookie-cutter, as nice as it is. Starwood has already been making moves in this direction, with their mini-chain Aloft that’s making a point to incorporate local artists and designers in the look of their hotels, engendering loyalty and a sense of place. Now Starwood’s flagship property in San Francisco, a W located in the South of Market neighborhood, finally gets a city-appropriate makeover courtesy of local legend Stanley Saitowitz and Natoma Architects.
Saitowitz is known for his residential and cultural projects, as well as restaurants (including the late, lamented Conduit ), but he’s never done a hotel before. And maybe that’s why this space will likely succeed. Saitowitz manages to encapsulate the spirit of San Francisco without resorting to the cliches that pepper so many of the city’s hotels (romantic streetcar photos, Golden Gate metaphors).
For inspiration, he invoked a quote from San Francisco journalist Ambrose Bierce: “This city is a point upon a map of fog.” (I’m guessing he didn’t want to include the next part of the passage, which is a bit more existential: “Like us, it doesn’t quite exist.”) Like the fog that embraces the city’s buildings, the feeling for the space is gray, dark, and a little gritty. The W also happens to be a few blocks from the missions and shelters that make SoMa one of the city’s more, um, interesting neighborhoods, but even that was inspiration to Saitowitz.
Picking up two keywords, “map” and “fog,” Saitowitz first turned the surfaces in the W into an urban-inspired grid. The hotel becomes a kind of cityscape, from the abstracted Google Maps-like floor and a shiny metropolis-looking sculpture behind the check-in desk, to the perforated patterns of skyscrapers in the stairways, railings, and walls. The gridded patterns that cover all the surfaces echo the blocks of the city plan, or maybe intersecting streets. And the furniture that rises from this grid are meant to be representative of buildings themselves, little architectural structures that are meant to be sat and dined upon. A new restaurant, named Trace, will take the place of the XYZ restaurant and bar on the bottom floor.
The fog comes into play with the color palette, which is mostly a range of grays that nod to both the asphalt-covered streets and the milky wisps of clouds. Even the subtle perforations in the proposed window treatments, railings, and ceilings evoke a kind of misty, ethereal world. But here’s the coolest part — the design even acknowledges San Francisco’s microclimates. The “fog” gradually thickens and lightens as it climbs higher through the space, culminating in an upstairs bar (named Upstairs Bar, but maybe just temporarily) that’s almost entirely covered in delicate pale grays and silvers, like standing in a skyscraper that’s totally obscured from the city below.
Saitowitz has worked in the city for over 30 years so it’s no surprise that his work is a classy nod to the interaction between infrastructure and environment that makes San Francisco one of the world’s great urban centers. Now all they need is another bar somewhere in the space called The Mission that’s sunnier and warmer.
[Photos by Natoma Architects]