Alex Schweder describes the “The Hotel Rehearsal,” an art installation he created for Denver’s Biennial of the Americas, as “the only hotel that travels vertically and horizontally at the same time.”
That a hotel should travel in any direction gives pause for thought. That this one not only travels across two dimensions but also has to be inflated like an air mattress to function, makes it one of the most fantastical pieces of architectural whimsy that I’ve yet encountered.
Last night, I had the pleasure of obtaining a tour of the Hotel from Schweder, a genial-lanky East coast architect dressed in hipster black who’s currently in the middle of a PhD program at Queen’s College, Cambridge.
I won’t forget the experience in a hurry.
The Hotel is made mostly out of transparent and white plastic and is about the size of a broom cupboard. It sits atop a white minivan, which was parked last night in a lot in downtown Denver on Welton Street.
Schweder opened up the back of the van, pulled a black zipper, and after taking off our shoes, we climbed up into the hotel “lobby”. The lobby turned out to be a tiny but perfectly-formed bathroom complete with a working toilet and shower. Then the architect unzipped another zipper and we entered the main space of the hotel room. Surrounding us was a lounge complete with inflatable couch, shag-pile rug, magazines and a glamorous view of the parking lot below.
At the flip of a switch, the hydraulic system in the van underneath the hotel whirred into motion and we ascended some feet higher into the heavens. The parking lot and people in it suddenly shrank and more of the city came into view.
Schweder took a seat on the lounger and pulled a soft drink from a compartment on a plastic wall. He explained that new developments, like hotels, are taking over more parking lots and other generally “disliked” spaces in the city. As such, the Hotel Rehearsal provides a prototype for — or, rehearses — the “hotelification” of urban space in Denver. (“Hotelification” is my word, not the artist’s; I’m struggling to find a way to describe what this ingenious, theatrical work is about.)
After we got up from the couch, Schweder flipped a switch and the lounger we had been sitting on folded in on itself and turned over to reveal a bed. The artist’s bedsheets were still crumpled on top of it. “I slept here last night,” Schweder told me. “And did you shower here too?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, as he pulled up a set of white drapes to demonstrate how the Hotel converts fully from daytime to nighttime attire.
I didn’t get to spend the night in the Hotel Rehearsal, though I would very much like to. The installation is going to remain in Denver until September 2 so there’s time to see if I can wangle a sleepover there. Not that the prospect is easy or affordable. I gather that the Biennial folks are a little reticent about letting people spend the night in the Hotel for security reasons. But it can be done, as long as potential overnighters are prepared to pay something in the region of $20,000-$40,000 for the experience. The insurance fees run high. I wonder if the cost includes room service?