Bathed in flattering golden light, the foyer and atrium bar of London's Dorsett Hotel subtly evoke the Art Deco glamour of the roaring '20s. The style connotes a fitting combination of refinement and pleasure, but here that is particularly apt, since architect Flanagan Lawrence created the hotel from the former Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, built in 1923 as a 3,000-seat movie theater.
The architects replaced parts of the brick facade with a curtain-walled structure behind a light-permeable terra-cotta screen that resembles solid brickwork. Above, the form of the original roof has been recreated with overlapping glass panels. Most bedrooms face outward, toward streets and a park, but almost 100 look into the central glass-roofed atrium, from which they receive borrowed daylight.
Referencing the roof profile and the facade's round arches, as well as decorative details gleaned from photographs, Flanagan Lawrence developed a language of circles and curves for the hotel's public spaces, accentuated by artificial light.
It begins at the arched entrance, where a domed structure sits behind triple-height glazing. With its golden surface washed by LEDs concealed within an overhead cornice, the vault acts as a giant lantern, emitting a soft orange glow. Inside the foyer, the eye is drawn to a round alcove in the ceiling containing a gilded relief of concentric rings uplit by LEDs hidden by a perimeter cornice.
Though Flanagan and the lighting designer, Mark Hensman of EQ2 Light, intended that visitors should perceive the foyer as a “dark” space whose only illumination comes indirectly from the coffers, the decorative lighting elements are supplemented by 30 “dark light” downlights—fixtures whose reflectors are polished to obscure the source of ambient light.
The gentle indirect lighting amplifies the contrast between the pale ceiling and limestone floor and the dark wood walls. Polished materials become secondary light sources; reflected light flashes off the brass check-in desk and lends a laquerlike luster to glossy black aluminum columns.
Intense or direct lighting is used to form “stepping stones” encouraging a natural progression from threshold to check-in to elevators, says Hensman. “We use it as a subliminal way of guiding people around the building.”
The hotel's centerpiece is revealed at the end of the foyer. Six gold hoops encircle the eight-story atrium, recalling theater balcony fronts. Diverting attention from the dark bands of bedroom windows, they also provide atmospheric illumination, housing continuous LED strips that seep light through hundreds of vertical slits.
The hoops succeeded an earlier design for a pendant light fixture and, says Hensman, are themselves “effectively a big chandelier—one that happens to be part of the architecture.”
Precise placement of fixtures and detailed design research led to the scheme's success, which owes as much to psychology as technology. The design defers to a person's innate understanding of natural light, Hensman observes. As day turns to evening, a lighting control system dims the light while gradually warming its temperature from 3,000 to 3,700 Kelvin.
Overall levels of illumination are of little importance in hotels, where mood is what matters, says Hensman. At the Dorsett, dramatic effects are achieved with theatrical means, using suggestion and distraction while suppressing evidence of technique. From a former theater, the designers have created a new stage for hotel guests, where lighting sets the scene but doesn't steal the show.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Planning Consultant: DP9
Rights to Light Consultant:
Gross square footage:
163,000 square feet (15,135 m2)
Total project cost:
$45 million ('30million)
Interior feature lighting: