How to make a splash in Manhattan? It’s a question that has vexed more than a few. For Novotel, the hotelier well known to travelers throughout Europe and Asia, it was especially important. The company wanted to make a big impression with their new Times Square flagship—and to capture the spirit and uniqueness of the location—without leaning on tired interpretations, so that was one of the key questions posed to four architecture firms competing for the commission.
The winning concept came from the firm of Stonehill & Taylor, but not before some serious digging into the history of the area. “We had six or seven ideas that we started to explore,” says Mike Suomi, a principal at the firm. “Some were interesting; some were weird.” (In the latter category was the legacy of the lobster halls that dotted the neighborhood, which featured waitstaff dressed in lobster costumes.) In the end, though, says Suomi, “We kept going back to the idea that Time Square has become the premier location to observe the passage of the New Year in the Western world. No hotel or restaurant there has that as its primary concept.”
Elements of the New Year and the passage of time find its way throughout the hotel, inspired by Suomi and his team’s deep exploration of the occasion’s meaning across cultures. The most visible moment, though, and possibly the most directly related to its location, occurs as guests first enter the hotel. You see, the hotel is not far from the where the ball drops—the event ultimately responsible for the crowds each December 31.
“Guests are coming in from the end of a long journey,” Suomi explains. “It’s jarring, there’s sensory overload then they enter the street lobby that’s relatively small and spend at most 10 minutes there. We wanted it to be a different environment from what they’ve experienced and to be intimate, as opposed to the chaos outside. “We wanted them to be able to decompress and change their attitude and mood before they came to main lobby upstairs—we wanted them to feel reborn.”
The space guests enter is Suomi and his team’s deconstructed New Year’s ball. “It’s very dark, and all you see is this unfolded ball.” Adding to the experience, Suomi choreographed LED light effects that are constantly changing. Depending on the moment someone is in the space, the experience will be different. So, at the top of the hour, there’s a take on the New Year’s countdown and enough other moments that the typical guest will only see a specific event once. There’s even an aural component—a remixed version of Auld Lang Syne that registers as a familiar, though difficult to place, tune in this particular context.