Many plans for reviving the neglected centers of America's small and medium-size cities involve building new museums, restaurants, and hotels to bring life to deserted sidewalks, but the architects and hoteliers behind the 21c Museum Hotel group found a winning formula in combining all three in one venue. For the flagship in downtown Louisville, the art collector-owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson hired New York–based Deborah Berke Partners to design a unique project that is equal part hotel and contemporary art museum, anchored to the street by a destination restaurant.

“We had been going to Basel and to Bilbao, and we saw how art and travel played a role in the commerce and vitality of other communities,” says Wilson. “We wanted to do the same thing in Louisville.”

The concept has created its own ecosystem, with the hotel bringing new people to the neighborhood throughout the day, locals arriving to eat and drink at the restaurant, and everyone exploring Brown and Wilson's collection in the public spaces and dedicated galleries, which all are free to enter. The model was successful enough that Berke and 21c went on to collaborate on projects in Cincinnati, completed in 2012, and in Bentonville, Arkansas, which opened early last year. All of the hotels had occupancy rates exceeding 60 percent in 2013 and revenues per available room (a key measure of a hotel's success) at the top of their markets. The owners now plan to expand on the model, opening three more Berke-designed projects in the next two years. “We like downtown sites, and that's where 21c really works,” says Berke. “It brings a youthful energy on lots of different levels: the cooking, the art, the attitude.”

The pairing of Berke's sophisticated minimalist aesthetic with the owners' taste for colorful, sometimes confrontational, and frequently playful contemporary art ties the projects together, but each responds to a unique set of urban conditions. In Louisville, Berke's firm combined five 19th-century warehouse structures into a single hotel with a two-story gallery space at its heart. In Cincinnati, Berke renovated the century-old Metropole Hotel, restoring its facade and foregrounding its most interesting architectural space, an original light well lined with glazed white brick. And a newly constructed Bentonville building picks up the low-slung scale of the town square and connects the streetscape to a path that leads to the Moshe Safdie–designed Crystal Bridges Museum of Art.

With the next crop of hotels, Berke is working with a pedigreed set of existing buildings. Early next year, 21c will open in a converted Durham, North Carolina, bank building (originally designed by Empire State Building architects Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon). Her firm is also currently renovating a McKim, Mead, and White bank in Lexington, Kentucky. And in Oklahoma City, the firm is taking advantage of the massive spans inside an Albert Kahn automobile plant for another 21c. “We're planning to show really big artwork that you can walk around in the hotel spaces,” she says. “We're also playing with rubber and automobile belts.”

Though 21c has found success in smaller cities, Wilson thinks the formula will work in bigger markets as well, though, so far, no plans have been announced. “Lots of hotels in coastal cities use art as decoration, but no one is incorporating it the way we are,” says Wilson. “We now think we're ready for those cities.”

Deborah Berke Partners
220 Fifth Avenue
7th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Size: Louisville: 100,200 square feet; Cincinnati: 159,200 square feet; Bentonville: 99,900 square feet

Completion Date:Louisville: 2006; Cincinnati: 2012; Bentonville: 2013


Client: 21c Museum Hotels

Owner: Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson

Deborah Berke Partners
220 Fifth Avenue
7th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record:
21c Louisville: K. Norman Berry Associates Architects

Executive Architect
21c Cincinnati: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel
21c Bentonville: Polk Stanley Wilcox

Interior designer: Deborah Berke Partners

21c Louisville: Stanley D. Lindsey Associates
21c Cincinnati: Atlantic Engineering Services
21c Bentonville: SCA Consulting Engineers

21c Louisville: Richard Moore Consulting Engineers
21c Bentonville: Crafton Tull Sparks

21c Louisville: Kerr-Greulich Engineers
21c Cincinnati: Kohrs Lonnemann Heil Engineers, PSC
21c Bentonville: HP Engineering, Inc.

21c Bentonville: John F. Gore & Associates, Inc.

21c Louisville: Renfro Design Group, Inc.
21c Cincinnati: Illumination Works
21c Bentonville: Illumination Works

21c Cincinnati: The Sextant Group

21c Louisville:
- Historic Preservation Consultants – Heritage Consulting; Kentucky Heritage Council

21c Cincinnati
- Historic Preservation Consultant—Judith Williams

General contractor:
21c Louisville: James N. Gray Co.
21c Cincinnati: Messer Construction
21c Bentonville: Flincto, LLC (Springdale, AR)

Photographer(s): Timothy Hursley, Magnus Lindquvist, Chris Cooper



Structural system
21c Louisville: Main Gallery – Steel Structural Beam – Supplied by contractor

Exterior cladding
21c Louisville: Existing
21c Cincinnati: Existing
21c Bentonville: Dark Ironspot Velour Modular Brick –Endicott Clay

Wood frame:
21c Louisville:

- Exterior Storefront Windows – Marvin Windows and Doors

- Exterior Wood Framing for Storefront Windows – Kentucky Mill & Casework

Metal frame:
21c Cincinnati: Exterior Steel Windows – Bliss Nor-Am
21c Bentonville: Exterior Windows and Framing – Kawneer North America

21c Louisville:

- Main Gallery – Glass Floor/Skylight – Paragon Architectural Products

21c Cincinnati:

- Solarium – Glass Floor and Ceiling Panels – Geiger Construction Products, Inc.

21c Bentonville:

- Lobby Gallery – Clerestory Glass – Kawneer North America

21c Louisville: Custom Wood Doors – Kentucky Mill & Casework
21c Cincinnati: Custom Steel and Glass Doors – Bliss Nor-Am
21c Bentonville: Custom Steel and Glass Doors – Kawneer North America

Interior finishes
Ceiling Treatments:
21c Louisville:

- Restaurant – Fabric Ceiling Panels – Barrisol USA

21c Cincinnati:

- Lobby – Interior Ceiling Membrane in Crystal and Blanc – Newmat USA

21c Bentonville:

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
21c Louisville:

- Guestroom - Custom Head board and Case Goods – Kimball Hospitality

21c Cincinnati:

- Guestroom – Custom Platform Bed, Headboard and Case Goods – Cheng Meng Furniture

21c Bentonville:

- Guestroom - Custom Platform Bed, Headboard, and Case Goods – Cheng Meng Furniture

21c Bentonville:

- Lobby - Custom Wood Slat Ceiling – Rulon International

21c Cincinnati:

- Restaurant – Existing Mosaic Floor Tiles

- Guestroom Bathroom – Custom Ceramic Wall Tiles – Rookwood Pottery Company

- Guestroom Bathroom – METRO Glazed Ceramic Wall Tiles – Nemo Tile, Inc.

21c Cincinnati:

- Exterior Entrance – Canopy – Re-cladded Existing Canopy structure

- Guestroom – Custom Printed Shades – Sunborn Shading Solutions

Reception furniture:
21c Bentonville:

- Lobby - Custom Reception Table – Simplemente Madera

- Lobby - A-Stool - HALE

Fixed seating:
21c Louisville:

- Restaurant – Custom Upholstered Banquetts – Kisabeth Furniture

21c Cincinnati:

- Restaurant – Custom Upholstered Banquettes – Delta Furniture

- Rooftop Cocktail Terrace – Cloud Collection Sofa – Walter’s Wicker

- Guestroom – Small Upholstered Sofa – Bob Williams + Mitchell Gold

- Guestroom – Custom Upholstered Sofa -- Amtrend

21c Louisville:

- Restaurant – Kristal Side Chair – Janus Et Cie

21c Cincinnati:

- Restaurant – Custom Wood and Leather Dining Chairs – Simplemente Madera

- Guestroom – CH6128 Extra Large Chair in White – Skypad, Inc.

- Guestroom - Custom Upholstered Dining Chairs – Amtrend

- Rooftop Cocktail Terrace – Forest Barstool LB in Metallic Grey – Janus Et Cie

21c Bentonville:

- Guestroom – Custom Love Seat – Décor International

21c Cincinnati:

- Restaurant – Dining Tables – Chairmasters

- Restaurant – Solid Wood Dining Table – Simplemente Madera

- Guestroom – Hourglass Stool Side Table – Roost Home Furnishings

- Guestroom – Custom White Stone dining table with walnut wood base – Cheng Meng Furniture

- Guestroom – Custom Stone and Bronze Coffee Table – Cheng Meng Furniture

- Rooftop Cocktail Terrace – High Table – Janus Et Cie

- Rooftop Cocktail Terrace – Cloud Teak Top Coffee Table – Walter’s Wicker

21c Bentonville:

- Guestroom – Custom Stone and Wood Dining Table – Cheng Meng

21c Bentonville:

- Guestroom – Custom Throw Pillows -- Fabricut

Decorative Lighting:
21c Louisville:

- Restaurant – Solitaire Pendant – Niche Modern

21c Cincinnati:

- Restaurant – Carlyn Custom Decorative Pendant – Orion Chandelier

- Guestroom – Snowflower 062 E26 Pendant – ShapingYourDay

- Guestroom – Custom Nightstand Lamp – Lighting Enterprise

21c Bentonville:

- Guestroom – Russell “Rustic Modern” Large Table Lamp in Warm Silver – MadeGoods

- Guestroom – Custom direct wire ceiling light fixture with 3 metal globe pendants – Hallmark Lighting

21c Louisville:

- Public – Dornbracht Faucets

- Public - Kohler Toilets

- Guestrooms - Purist K-14426 Tub Spout in polished chrome– Kohler

- Guestrooms – S-2 Showerhead white with polished chrome– Speakman Anystream

- Guestrooms – Cimarron K-4329 Toilet – Kohler

- Guestrooms – Aquagrande 5052IN-001 Lavatory – Lacava

21c Cincinnati:

- Public – Lacava Faucets

- Public – Kohler Toilets

- Guestrooms – Villager K-714 tub – Kohler

- Guestrooms – AS -3.2-L tub/shower fittings – Watermark Designs, Ltd.

- Guestrooms – AS-2-L lavatory fittings – Watermark Designs, Ltd.

- Guestrooms – Verticyl K-2882 undermount lavatory – Kohler

- Guestrooms – Persuade K-3654 Toilet – Kohler

21 c Bentonville:

- Public - Lacava Faucets

- Public - Kohler Toilets

- Guestrooms - Watermark Designs, Ltd. Faucets

- Guestrooms - Kohler Toilets

- Guestrooms - Kohler Bathtubs

- Guestrooms - Kohler Lavatories

21c Louisville:

- Street Installation – David (Inspired by Michelangelo) – Serkan Özkaya

- Restaurant – What the Flock?! (2012) – Johnston Foster

21c Cincinnati:

- Street Installation – Untitled (2005-2006) – Werner Reiterer

- Solarium – Lightmail (2012) – Astrid Krogh

- Restaurant – Yellow Penguin – Cracking Art Group

21c Bentonville:

- Street Installation – Orange Tree (2010) – Alexandre Arrechea

- “Saw-tooth Gallery” – A Sudden Gust of Wind in Bentonville (2013) – Serkan Özkaya

- Fitness Center – Fat Bat (2005) – Virginie Barré