Picture This

Renegade Collective

April 2014

Guests staying at Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom will see the city through the eyes of an artist rather than as a regular tourist, thanks to the work of its renowned architect, writes Tatyana Leonov.

Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel wanted to style 80 per cent of the rooms black at Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom. Jean loves the seductiveness that darkness brings.

Not everyone agreed (they thought hotel guests might find the all-black rooms too garish) and in the end three of the 182 rooms were designed black. The rest are either white or grey. All rooms are monochrome.

This design masterpiece is located within view of its Gothic namesake, St Stephen’s Cathedral. The hotel sits just outside the first district, where there’s a height restriction, and because of its premier location it’s the only high-rise that offers unsurpassed views of old-town Vienna.

The view was the focus from the very start and Jean wanted to keep the design as minimalistic as possible, not just to capture the cityscape but to emphasise it.

As a result, the design ensured all of the rooms had a view – either of the historical first district or the flourishing second district, and each room is designed so that guests don’t just take in the sights but are instead encouraged to customise their own tableaux. The grey rooms feature moving panels across the windows, enabling visitors to quite literally frame the city into their own personal picture. In the white rooms, Jean used reflective materials on the windows to achieve a similar effect.

In addition, each room boasts an abstract artwork that is open to interpretation according to a guest’s mood, outlook or flight of fancy. Each work also includes the title of a musical track scribed on it in an inconspicuous spot.

And as you’d expect with Jean, there’s a story here. The architect is a passionate advocate of encouraging people to pursue their creative passions and invited 12 young Viennese artists to create the works while listening to music. The result is a cornucopia of unique drawings, each with their own signature soundtrack.

Colour isn’t completely absent from the hotel. Illuminated ceilings in the lobby, the belvedere and the panoramic restaurant designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist are in complete contradiction with Jean’s minimalistic approach. Pipilotti’s idea was to infuse the futuristic building with a burst of colour and she went all-out, injecting myriad hues with her psychedelic, kaleidoscope-inspired designs that are meant to echo the vibrant tones of the mosaics of St Stephen’s Cathedral.

The overall impact of these two approaches is to enhance the immersive effect of being in the historical city while staying at the hotel, and reduce the innate sense of disconnect that can come with the very nature of being a ‘tourist’. Rather, one is a true guest.