Friday, August 20, 2010

Making a Grand Entrance

Fontainebleau Hotel - original lobby design (circa 1955)
When I was writing yesterday about the Greensboro train station, I concluded by bemoaning the loss of the “gateway” effect that used to be an expected and exciting feature of public architecture. It is an entire section of architecture that is presently either out of fashion or simply overlooked. When I am thinking of gateways, I am thinking of main entrances to buildings, main lobbies, primary or grand staircases; all of the ways one used to make an entrance into a building or into a room. One encountered these often in travel either as the grand halls of train stations or in the grand lobbies of hotels. There was an architectural feature on the exterior of the building that directed you toward the entrance that subsequently led to this grand space. Hotels typically used a porte-cochere to bring you to the primary entrance. Department stores and train stations would sport grandly colonnaded facades with the primary entrance dressed in architectural detail. Older airports continued this tradition. If you observe the older section of National Airport in Washington, D.C. you can clearly discern the door that used to serve as the main entrance. Therefore, we cannot assume that the ascendancy of flight over other forms of travel had some inherent component that contributed to the demise of the gateway or grand entrance. The loss must really be the result of changing architectural aesthetics.
King & Prince Hotel - original lobby area (2008)
Several little tricks were used to embellish the sensation of entering a grand space. Part of the grandness, for example, is the soaring ceiling height. It is impossible to fully appreciate a soaring height without a lower ceiling as a reference point. Therefore, it is traditional to go through a lower ceiling space prior to entering a grand lobby or main hall. This has been used to good effect in contemporary architecture. John Portman’s Atlanta Hyatt Regency from the late 1960s took the sensation to new heights by bringing the visitor through a lower ceiling space prior to entering an atrium. And Morris Lapidus, the much maligned architect of many of Miami Beach’s landmark hotels, developed the ultimate conceit for making an entrance: the staircase to nowhere. These staircases, which became a Lapidus signature, provided an opportunity for women to disembark from the elevator on a mezzanine floor from which they could descend a grand staircase into the main lobby thereby affording a wonderful opportunity to show off high-style clothes.

Of course, a space does not necessarily have to be “grand” in dimensions to feel grand. I occasionally take a weekend at the grand old King and Prince Hotel at St. Simons, Georgia. I still prefer to enter the building through the original lobby. Frequently abandoned and unused except as a reception space, the original lobby has wonderful fluted columns and handsome iron banisters topped with polished brass railings, a coffered ceiling and polished stone floor, and inviting upholstered club chairs and sofas that present the setting I associate with a well-heeled hotel lobby. The room itself is not large, but there is a grandness there that is sadly lacking in the area currently used as a lobby. I loathe that place and only ever see it when I am checking in or checking out. I rarely eat in the hotel anymore because I simply don’t want to see a place that looks mostly like a dated food court in an aging shopping mall. Although the ceiling soars in the place, there is nothing grand about it. It makes for a very disappointing entrance, which is why I use the older lobby. Even in disuse, there is more character there and it sets a good tone for the weekend.Fortunately, nothing stays the same so one may anticipate a return to strongly articulated entrances at some point – I can hardly wait!

1 comment:

  1. Your staircase can incorporate many different features, all of which can add to the appearance. Find out about the different part of a staircase and how they can be used to create a feature in your home.

    Horseback Riding Grand Staircase