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Fusion of Art, Technology Brings Old Hotel Into New Millennium

February 15, 2001|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seems Los Angeles hasn't yet had its fill of designer boutique hotels. Move over Mondrian, Standard and W. The newest kid on the block is L.A. Hotel. That's a rather generic name for the 164-room former St. Francis Hotel at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue that promises to be nothing but cool. This new incarnation will be a modern, technologized space designed from the flatware up by none other than Karim Rashid, the design world's current It guy.

"The hotel is going to be extremely contemporary," said Rashid from his New York studio. "What that means is it's going to address the phenomena of the day and age in which we live. Most of my work is not about trying to be nostalgic. It's very much about now. There will be an opportunity for artists to do certain installations, and there will be digital installations. It will be a kind of cultural haven."

Quite a lot to promise for a budget hotel (under $200 a night) that's a new sibling to New York's hip, cheap Gershwin Hotel, both owned by Montreal-based hoteliers Urs Jakob and his wife, Suzanne Tremblay. Although the renovation will take a year to complete, some rooms will be available in about a month.

"We were really looking for a designer for the new millennium," said Jakob of his decision to hire Rashid. "We sat down and thought about how the design can be different from the last century, what technology is here, what ideas are here, and together we came up with new concepts and designs." It is, he says, hotel as performance art.

Among those new concepts is a digital technology system that will allow projections on the walls, everything from gradually changing colors to graphics to videos. The hotel will also utilize Rashid's popular products for Umbra, including his famous curvy Garbo trash can.

The Cairo-born Rashid, who is relatively new to the hotel game (this is his third), is well-known in design circles for his prolific career, which has included industrial, fashion, product and interior design, museum exhibitions and teaching.

Hotels, he said, offer him a welcome challenge: "The idea of a hotel used to be that you'd take your home with you. Now they're very experiential, and it should be about a kind of fantasy, having experiences that you wouldn't typically have at home. Now you can take memories home with you."

Rashid's concepts are also a reaction to the global homogenization of cultures--the Gap-izing of the world--which makes it increasingly difficult to find unique experiences while traveling. If you can't find them on the street, maybe you can find them in a hotel.

The big question is, will the L.A. Hotel capture the true essence of L.A.?

"As I've been working on the concepts, I've been trying to find relationships with L.A.," Rashid explained, "and I'm not really sure if I've found any--not literal ones, anyway. But the people who have seen them say it's very L.A., maybe because there's a certain freedom, a certain vibrancy. My work is very strong and colorful, maybe extroverted. I would call L.A. an extroverted city."

*

Is your secret desire to build a home from the ground up? A little short of cash to complete the job? Have we got a project for you. For the next 11 weeks the "Today" show will build a house in Tampa, Fla., and you, the viewer, can vote on everything from the floor plan to the design of various rooms.

The "Today Builds a House" project is being done in conjunction with OurHouse.com, a Web site for home products and services. A different aspect of the house will be featured each Wednesday (it began yesterday), and viewers can cast their votes on the show's Web site, http://www.today.msnbc.com.

OurHouse.com's "Mr. Fix-It," Lou Manfredini, also a regular "Today" contributor, will act as a guide throughout the process and will give home-building tips. Both sites will offer additional information about the building and designs.

If, after the house is completed, you feel you've invested so much creative energy you just can't let it go, you can buy it. The home will be auctioned off on OurHouse.com, with proceeds donated to Habitat for Humanity.

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