In early 2010, the Waldorf Hotel had been languishing in a partial state of neglect for over 25 years. We saw in the hotel the potential to rescue the best of the existing building and mix it up into one big, old, new thing. Our plan was to bring cultural density through simultaneous diverse programming where high culture and low-culture would mix and cross-pollinate. Under one roof, any number of different things could be going on at any one time. Alternately, the whole building could be opened up to create an endless labyrinth of different atmospheres and experiences.
The hotel's concrete moderne façade (circa 1947) had been subsequently festooned with two sets of terra cotta rooflets running the entire length and width of the building. This gave the building a clumsy, gratuitous Spanish colonial air. After we had removed the false clay roofs, to reveal the original late 1940's form, we soon noticed that the building next door, a factory, had been built in the same time period, shared several design traits with the hotel and boasted a few of its own style moderne details. Stripped of its disfiguring decoration, the hotel suddenly became free to perform a more natural role in the surrounding industrial neighbourhood, the particularity of its rather specific identity offset by its architectural coherence in the urban setting. After stripping the exterior of the commercial detritus accumulated over decades of different signage schemes and commercial ephemera, we scraped and sanded and then re-painted the entire building. The colour scheme was designed to take advantage of the different depths in the cast concrete surface, to add graphic emphasis and support the time period and function of the building. while upholding the subtle film noir quality of the area. The original palm-tree sign still remained from the 1950's, but the graphics had been changed in the 1980's. The new graphic we designed was a black and white version of the original Waldorf logo which we carefully reconstructed from an early newspaper image.
The original tiki spaces were built in 1955. About two thirds of the building's interior were never exposed to the tiki idiom. These areas had been beleaguered by multiple subsequent and miss-matched renovations over the years. The voluptuous curves and angles so particular to 1940's architecture were barely evident beneath layers of drywall and eclectic décor. We knew we were restoring the tiki bar. But we decided that rather than simply "modernizing" the remaining two thirds and framing the tiki bar as a museum piece, we would instead extrapolate the 1940's tiki sensibility over the whole hotel, following certain principles established by the existing Polynesian spaces and unifying the whole hotel into one big bamboo super-plex. Avoiding a sharp distinction between the old bits of the hotel and the new produced the rare sensation of time and history one inevitably felt (anywhere) inside the Waldorf. The contemporary interpretation of the original tiki formal style had to be able to reconcile a rustic island sensibility with that of the existing 1940's shell, as the original architect had achieved in 1955. While deriving in spirit from the original bamboo and cane work, the contemporary interpretation had to be simple and inexpensive. We cleaned out all of the hotel's many storage rooms and made a collection of our own from the pile of carvings, masks and paintings, both tiki and non-tiki, collected over several decades. We purchased bamboo in bulk and stapled it to the walls. Then we painted giant jungle patterns on certain surfaces to reference the flagstone of the tiki bar floor and the Polynesian tapestries over the long bar downstairs. The shapes in woodwork refer to the tribal masks and to the building's noir-era architecture. Every decision we made was in an effort to affirm the influence of culture (including subculture) in architecture.
Renovation, especially when it is extensive, always carries the risk of losing the feeling or soul of the original construction. In fact, it is very rare that the particular depth of feeling we experience in an old building can survive a renovation substantially intact. In the case of the Waldorf, we knew we had a lot to work with, but we tried very hard not only to preserve but to actually amplify the soul of the building through our intervention. This process of the preservation and amplification of layered culture is at the heart of our collective philosophy. We begin by building on what exists around us but we work assiduously to increase the net result by way of cross-fertilization, diversification and happenstance. The renovated Waldorf in it's short history played home to two restaurants, a cocktail bar, a cabaret, a banquet room cum cinema, theatre and lecture hall, a hair salon, a recording studio, a printing press, an art gallery and a pop-up lingerie shop, We set out to create a world where local history and cutting-edge work could coalesce in an electric field of diverse activities. On a daily basis, the hotel accommodated fashion shows, vintage clothing bazaars, contemporary art exhibitions, music and literary events, festivals and film shoots and performance art. Outside the Waldorf featured food trucks, carnival rides, a midway, a miniature beach, a skate park and, briefly, a swimming pool. This is the kind of densification we have always promoted; a densification of culture. This is kind of density we need most right now.