Hotels are protean structures. Demolished and rebuilt to satisfy the economic demands of their owners; revamped to accommodate the needs and whims of their guests: few hotels survive for many years unscathed. No doubt most are more pleasant places as a result, but blandness lurks behind this process. Like the digitally altered images that fill glossy magazines, we have little idea of what has been lost in this quest.
These hotels are icons of 20th-century architecture and design. Built by pre-eminent architects of the last century, many suffered years of neglect before being restored. Only recently are these remarkable legacies starting to be respected and loved. Perhaps this reflects a growing nostalgia for the 20th century, as well as an increasing dissatisfaction with lacklustre hotels that could be anywhere in the world.
1 Le Corbusier hotel, Marseille, France
This hotel is in the Unité d’Habitation, an innovative building designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier, the modernist architect who famously described the house as “a machine for living in”. The radical multi-storey block was his attempt to create a rational plan for high-rise living that was pure and simple, eschewing ornamentation.
With shops, apartments, a hotel, and a pool on the roof terrace, it was an early experiment in creating a modern, concrete utopia. Hundreds of inferior apartment blocks aped this blueprint, but none managed to replicate the proportions and spatial order. The hotel remains loyal to Le Corbusier’s minimalist principles, with sleek furniture, basic fittings and scant service. Avoid the tiny “cabin” rooms and try one of the “sea-view” rooms, which have Le Corbusier chaise longues and original kitchens designed by Charlotte Perriand.
Sea-view rooms at Le Corbusier (http://hotellecorbusier.com; 00 33 4 91 16 78 00) cost from €138 (Dh661) per night, including taxes.
2 Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Dessau, Germany
The town of Dessau, about a two-hour train ride from Berlin, was home to the Bauhaus, an innovative and influential design school, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Bauhaus used modern industrial materials to create beautiful objects, such as Marcel Breuer’s chromium-plated steel and leather chair. It also tackled problems of the modern, industrial age such as housing for factory workers.
Closed by the Nazis in 1933, the Bauhaus Foundation reopened in the 1990s. It provides accommodation in the studio building. The rooms, once home to the school’s students, have been refurbished in an appropriately sparse and minimalist style. They have balconies and sinks, but the toilets and showers at the end of each floor are communal. Nevertheless, staying here is a treat, not least because the buildings themselves are among the Bauhaus’s most important work.
Double rooms at Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (www.bauhaus-dessau.de; 00 49 340 6508 318;) cost€55 (Dh264) per night, including taxes.
3 Africa Pension, Asmara, Eritrea
Italy invaded Eritrea in 1889, and made Asmara the capital of its colony a little more than a decade later. It remained a small outpost until the 1930s, when Mussolini used it as a base from which to invade neighbouring Ethiopia. The Italian architects who oversaw the city’s rapid expansion designed and built a showpiece of Italy’s east African empire. The result is an interesting mix of modernism and art deco buildings in Africa’s highest capital. The clear blue sky contrasts sharply with the pastel blues, creams and peaches of the experimental buildings.
Highlights include the Fiat Tagliero building, a Futurist petrol station with huge concrete wings, and the Cinema Impero, with its rusty-red facade and original art deco interior. The Africa Pension is a modernist villa with neatly trimmed gardens in a residential area. The rooms, with high ceilings, are light and airy, but the bathrooms are shared.
Double rooms at Africa Pension (00 29 1112 1436) cost from US$23 (Dh86) per night, including taxes.