Design of the hotel: Materials
Experiencing architecture has many dimensions to it, which is what makes it such a special art form. The materials of a building greatly enrich our experience of it. Choosing the materials, deciding on how they will work together, and detailing their interaction is a major part of any design.
While choosing materials, the architect must answer many questions: How will they age? Do they fulfill their functional requirements elegantly? How will they work together – visually, technically, and sensually?
The building itself is the answer to these questions, and there is no substitute for experiencing this resolution on site. Photography can only provide us with clues to a building. We read architecture with all our senses, and interact with it with our whole body.
While designing the minilofts we selected materials that would underscore and heighten the experience of our building. The materials emphasize the loft character, and at the same time create a cozy feeling of being at home.
A loft apartment is a space that has been converted from industrial factory use to living space. These conversions create exciting combinations of industrial and domestic elements, usually in very central locations of large cities. We designed the minilofts with exactly this counterpoint in mind.
Dialogue and Contrast
We chose the materials to create a dialogue, to inhabit opposite ends of a scale, like rough and smooth, warm and cool, soft and hard, practical and luxurious. This dialogue of contrasts accentuates the miniloft's identity.
To create the loft feeling we combined industrial feel materials like our white sanded concrete floors, the exposed concrete structure, or the chain link railing system, with luxurious surfaces which exude a warm, liveable quality such as the adobe wall plaster, and walnut wood sills and railings.
In the classic minilofts we augmented traditional Berlin materials with industrial materials to give the space its loft feeling. We restored the plaster wall rendering and replaced the wooden windows. We removed most of the walls, and unified the space with a new sanded white concrete floor. A translucent glass pane between the kitchen and the bathroom brings natural light into the bathroom, and creates a surface for fascinating shadow-play.
White Concrete Floors
Many architects ask us how we made the concrete floor. At the time we first built it we called about a hundred flooring companies in Berlin before we found two that were interested in trying to build it. It is a standard cement subfloor which we tuned to make it feel warm and hospitable.
We used white portland cement, and titanium dioxide as a pigment to whiten it even further. After curing for 28 days we sanded the floor with a diamond headed sanding machine, and sealed it with Lithofin, an invisible sealant which soaks into the stone.
We further refined the floor detailing when we built the Extroverted and Introverted minilofts two years later. The concrete mixture remained the same, but we redesigned the expansion joints, and the wall / floor junction.
If you take off your shoes, the floor feels a bit like a sandy beach under your feet. The floor heating in the Introverted and Extroverted minilofts lets you enjoy this feeling even in the winter.
The adobe plaster we used on selected walls is also one of our favourite materials. It is an entirely natural mixture of clay, sand, straw and water. We applied it in two layers: the first layer is 2.5 mm thick, and the light finishing layer is 3 mm thick. The adobe creates a buffer for air moisture, which improves the interior climate by absorbing water when the humidity is too high, and returning water to the air when it is too dry.
The finishing layer is made of light fine clays, mixed with straw and sand. The straw and sand sparkle in the light. The warm tones of this finish add a unique dimension to the Introverted and Extroverted minilofts.
The windows in the Classic and Compact minilofts are made of wood, the traditional material for windows in Berlin. The new building has windows made of anodized aluminium. The anodization is a an electrolytic process which produces a range of colours. Unlike paint, you cannot completely control the colour tone produced by anodization. We were quite surprised when the facade builders brought us three colour samples defining the two extremes and the middle point of tonality. It is hard to spot, but you might notice these small variations in colour tone which adds depth to the facade.
I have already discussed the stainless steel we used on the buildings exterior in the second article in this series, The west facade.
We were very lucky with our concrete company, Hoch-und Tiefbau Luckau, who did an excellent job. The finish on the concrete is immaculate by Berlin standards! There is nothing quite like the feel of a nicely poured concrete wall. In the Extroverted and Introverted minilofts the lovely concrete work is exposed on the ceilings, and on one wall. This helps emphasize the handcrafted nature of this material without overwhelming the space.
Walnut is one of our favourite woods. It has a lovely grain, and a rich dark colour. The window sills and railings inside the new miniloft building are all made of walnut wood.
We did over a hundred construction drawings detailing how all these materials would come together. The building is custom made, and has been designed to give our guests the experience of living in a unique downtown loft. The dialogue between the materials is one important chorus in creating this experience. The photos can only hint at the rich sensation of being here – the only way to find out is to come and stay with us sometime.