The Problematic Discourse on ’Philippe Starck’s’ Delano Hotel (1999) - From Content to Form

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Art Design Publicity at ADC | 30 June 2012

II. The Problematic Discourse on "Philippe Starck’s" Delano Hotel - From Content to Form

A. Search Procedures

Within this context a somewhat, unusual comprehensive search was undertaken to gather the published writings regarding the Delano hotel (See Appendix A for details.)

From this indexed source totality, the practice was to exclude almost all pre-1995 writings (the year the Delano was launched) on the one hand, and to select samples with a certain Delano-centrality in the text. Additionally two external threads were explored: the popular press writings on the Mondrian hotel, a subsequent Starck-Schrager collaboration in Los Angeles; and the reports concerning Starck’s London hotel activity, which includes two upcoming Starck-Schrager hotels. While this may consist of a basic search from an art historically-centred view, it does provide the basis for an approach looking at a defined sample of data approaching the Delano across a variety of kinds of material, and it focuses upon a particular kind of source material. The bulk of indexed references on the Delano hotel are popular press writings from academically recognized trade publications to local newspapers, and represents the state of the discourse to date.

B. The Search as only a sample of the Published Writing Totality

Talking about the Delano hotel means implicitly or explicitly talking about the published writings on the hotel, as they can help provide information for one’s own text. While the published writings themselves are just one thread to understanding the design, these writings are powerful, in that for many people they are the source of introduction to the design, provide material for reference, and today’s secondary information is tomorrow’s primary information. Unfortunately, the published writings contain just a small part of the potential totality of possible content used for discussions about the hotel. (The complexity is illustrated by examining Figures 1-3 [which follow], and comparing this with Bibliography A: List of Published Writings Sample on the Delano— Listed by Categories, which will be discussed and referred to throughout the dissertation).

As this study is partly concerned with the limited use of the subject totality and the accuracy or reliability of information presented about an interior design, exemplified by the Delano, the published writing search and sample needs to be addressed within its own context. The published writings on the hotel are any writing which addresses the hotel in some way. These can be found in the material for which the searches were conducted, but also include internet / CD-Rom sources. The former is problematic with its reliability— as could be argued for some published writings— and the latter as it isn’t indexed. Further, for more traditionally-printed material, encyclopedias and dictionaries would need to be included.

With this working classification, the writings of the Delano are vast and exponential to date, let alone for the future, and virtually impossible to define in finite terms due to (1) the nature and multiplicity of international media and (2) problems with accessing this kind of definitive list. The Delano’s and Starck’s press office don’t know exactly where he’s been mentioned in print, and can only provide a selected list at best; the totality of writings approaching Starck and his designs is even more unattainable. This is understandable when considering that (1) Starck or his office do not need to be contacted for his name to be mentioned; (2) if an image is to be included, it could be taken by any photographer, under certain conditions; (3) the product / industrial designs, interiors, and architecture are distributed through a large number of companies worldwide, which have their own press offices; and (4) the nature of discourse which may mention a design within a vast variety of contexts (See Figure 3 below).

Figure 1. The Delano Hotel Design Totality (by subject topic)
The design as it is upon a viewing or via photographic / video documentation; the possible content “hits” within a piece of writing on the Delano

The Object
A. Example of object in an interior

1. The basic information
2. The materials / techniques
3. The visual elements and principles, and relationship to combinations to create claims (e.g. theatricality)
4. The functions
5. Their current contexts: economic, political, sociological, philosophical, environmental, visual / spatial

Space or Interior
B. Dissection of spaces: (e.g. guest bathroom)

1. The space
2. Its objects
3. The flooring, wall surfaces, and ceiling
4. The lighting
5. Water, heating, cooling, air, sound, smell
6. Its various contexts
Facade or “Interior” composed of interiors; in the context of “indoor / outdoor” lobby at Delano— includes grounds

C. The spaces of the hotel

1. The outdoor entrance (and its parts)
2. The exterior (and its parts)
3. The lobby (and its parts)
4. The restaurant (and its parts)
5. The back garden (and its parts)
6. The pool area (and its parts)
7. The bungalows, lanai rooms, and cabanas (and their parts)
8. The guest spaces (rooms), suites, penthouses (and their parts)
9. The gym (and its parts)
10. The bathhouse (and its parts)
11. Hallways, elevators, etc. (and their parts)
12. The segregated working areas (and their parts)

D. The hotel as one: an abstract totality (generalities) (drawing upon topical strategies in A, B, and C).

Additional problems with determining the entirety of the writing on the Delano and Starck include limitations with even comprehensive library searches, like the one undertaken, as traditional library searches focusing on "(proper name) hotel", "designer" and "owner" do not reveal the totality of writings on the subject covered in the published writings. Further, its expansive potential as illustrated in Figure 3, and including interdisciplinary approaches, can mean a need to access a wide variety of indices. Those such as Art Index and design and applied art index are limited by the titles they carry and the shortcomings of human efforts with indexing. Published material can be expected to be written in several of the world’s languages, which presents difficulties for press office knowledge and accessing these writings through indices. When Starck worked in Japan [Restaurant Manin (1987), Nani Nani (1989), Asahi Beer Hall (1990), Le Baron Vert (1992); Taschen 1996], Hong Kong [Felix Restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel (1994); Taschen 1996], and Mexico City [Restaurant Theatron (1985); Taschen 1996], we can assume that some material was generated in the Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican presses— at least— and that Starck and the project press offices are unable to definitively identify the extent to which Starck or his designs were mentioned, and that the published material and the mentions within contexts limit comprehensive identification.

For material in books, Starck-hunting encounters the same problems regarding periodicals in their totality. While cross-checking bibliographies of articles and books with bibliographies, comparing lists on a subject and keyword search of library catalogues, examining the list of books in print, contacting the press office, and looking at references in specialized dictionaries, can help to flush out a potentially comprehensive list approaching the design/er, problems are multiplied when developing— considering just the Starckian context— a comprehensive list of books in which the designer is referred to within a context. In art and design surveys alone, the potential for a reference to Starck’s Delano and particularly Starck occurs in books published after his design work began to become recognized, after the mid- to late 1970s. Further, Starck’s internationalization means publication in the world’s languages. The problem is that Starck could be mentioned almost anywhere, in any field, and in almost any context— in libraries, via telephone lines, and, with satellites, spiraling well into the galaxy.

Figure 2. People as Source Connection / Intervention

E. Creators, users, and watchers— people who interact (or don’t) with the design
1. designer (Starck and others on the project)
2. client (Schrager and other owners)
3. business-workers (those who work for or with the hotel or designers; including marketing/media; academic)
4. government
5. hotel guests and users
6. the community (comprised of various related or unrelated occupations and levels of knowledge and contact with the design).

Figure 3. Routes and Contexts
F. Within Various Comparative Contexts, Relationships, and Continuums (can be multiplied)

1. Across designs (interior and others)

a. those by Starck, and Starck with Schrager
b. those by nationality of designer
c. those by building type
d. those by objects and spaces (e.g. chairs, restaurants, bathrooms)
e. those by design approach (style, use of technology, etc.)
f. those by location of design (e.g. tropical design)
g. those by a defined period of time (e.g. 80s design)
h. materials / techniques
i. visual matters (e.g. the use of the color "white")

2. Across Starck in a non-design context
3. Across Schrager activities
4. Across business orientations (hotels, and designer hotels, and their parts) (general and specific)
5. Across lifestyle and travel interests (connection— hotel and leisure)
6. Across visual experiences (general and specific)
7. Across location (South Beach, Miami, urban-beach-semi-tropical, South Florida, USA, world)
8. Across themes/contexts like political, economic, religious, etc.

C. The Informational Totality

1. The Modes
The published writings are only a small source of information about the hotel in writing; other important information, or that used in published articles, is spoken, yet written and edited, as well. For professional design writing, the following are included by Goslett in The Professional Practice of Design (1984): business letters, contracts, written material from briefs, diary notes from a brief, memos, invoices, progress charts, report writing, publicity material, etc. (As the text is now 15 years old, yet reprinted in 1995, fax and e-mail need to be added.) Problematically, this authoritative text does not appear to be based upon an examination of data using applied linguistics methodology, and the extent to which this text represents the actual workings and authentic samples of the design profession is yet to be determined. These considerations not only represent unpublished discourse on and in reference to the Delano, but it also represents potential source material which may appear in current and future published writings, as is the usage of unpublished material of a personal nature making its way into published form. In Understanding Architecture (1994: 168-84), Conway and Roenisch provide guidelines for gathering sources for investigations into buildings; in Conway’s Design History: A Student’s Handbook (1987: 12-13) these guidelines also approach the designs. These possibilities include a client’s brief, a surveyor’s report, diary entries, historical records, statements by the designer and the users, in addition to visual material (plans, drawings, models, sketches), etc. Further, while this paragraph deals with a more design-centred sourced approach, the information about various creators, users and watchers need to be included, particularly with reference to the design. (See Figure 1 above.)

But written material is not the only mode of discourse on the Delano, and spoken language needs to be included as well— across the creators, users and watchers again. Figures 1 and 2 include the potential of oral and non-published written information by not only Starck’s design for the Delano, but need to be multiplied by the "various context" totality (see Figure 3 above). More abstractly, non-verbal communication could take the form of a grimace or smile when someone thinks and sees the design, which could appear in a published writing about a person’s reaction. The spoken discussions between a supervisor and student may surface in written form in a student’s MA dissertation, or could end up in a university lecture, or if recorded or "remembered", can act as a certain evidence or account, particularly regarding Starck and Schrager with a writing emphasis upon designer and client. And this source material may surface within a written text. [The impact of this "intertextuality", the presence of texts within texts that surface in a presented text (Fairclough 1995b), is a recurring thread in this dissertation.]

2. The Information, and the Information Paths
The proposed potential subject totality for discussing the Delano hotel [as architecture and interior] in Figures 1, 2, and 3 above take into account the previous work of writers who have attempted to account for visual arts discourse from the bottom-up [a deconstructed starting point for visual arts writings, beginning with Figure 1’s section A, for example] to those who talk about visual arts discourse more globally. It includes basic information; materials / techniques, elements and principles, subject matter-iconography-content, technology, contextual matters outside of the work which include religious, philosophical, environmental, social, economic, and political. It starts from an individual object as "one", composed of spatial parts; it then moves to the "one" as in "one of many" in a space (or "room") to a spatial "interior" of a hotel, (to the grounds of the hotel). It also includes various contexts of comparisons, such as a comparison of color from the Delano to the Mondrian hotel (exemplified in Anderton 1997) via the Figure 1. D. "hotel as ’one’ category through "color" and compared to the Mondrian equivalent construct.

Figure 1A is drawn from Studying Art History by Charles Jansen (1986) who provides a diagrammatical art history based upon what I’d call content "hits", in other words, dividing "art historical content" into categories: visual elements and principles, materials / techniques, basic information, subject matter-iconography, and contextual: social, economic, religious, philosophical, and environmental. These "content hit" interactions create the basis for assertions about formal style, although they can quickly turn to non-formal areas. With this perspective, there is movement between generalities and specificities, at different levels (for example: chair to room [2]; room to interior; interior to overall interior), which can show up in the writing. The illustration of "content hits" presented in section 1.A (in Figure 1) is comparable to the implicit strategies used in several art appreciation and pre-art history textbooks, such as Gilbert’s Living with Art (1995) and like those examined in Charles Jansen’s PhD dissertation (1991:vii) [3]. While Jansen describes his approach as deterministic, Michael O’Toole in The Language of Displayed Art (1994) sees his as semiotic (p. 4) in which he asserts "It is my contention in this book that semiotics... can assist us in the search for a language through which our perceptions of a work of art can be shared." Yet, while O’Toole may use a different methodology, the content "hits" are repeated to a great degree. Meanwhile in Figure 2, E specifies those people (or other users— animals) who interact or have interacted with the design. Usually, their role will be indicated in the text, and consists of the "voices" addressing the hotel. So, for example, I as the writer, the supervisor, and external examiner are listed in point 3: business-workers in this dissertation-interactive role. For F in Figure 3, the various illustrated contexts can appear in passages where the Delano hotel is discussed. For example, "Across Starck’s designs" means a survey book or article approaching Starck where the hotel design is exemplified; "nationality" referring to French design; those by "time" being "20th century" or "late 20th century"; "across location" could be "design in Miami". This expands on Walker’s varieties (1989:99) of "time and place" and "materials / techniques". It also incorporates Jansen’s "making comparisons" (embedded in his interpretation section, p. 48), and some of these search strategies are considered part of the strategies of today’s academics and researchers. ( See Appendix C for a selection of angled strands.)

Within a Delano-diaspora context— specifically looking at the London hotels and Mondrian hotel route— the Delano is mentioned within London hotels announcements / news reports with the context of listing precedent hotels (Taylor, 30 April 1998, across basic information of ownership-designer and previous work); with the Mondrian-centred trade press articles, the Delano is mentioned across the theme of whiteness ["The theme is white (but not as ’provocatively white’ as Schrager’s Delano in Miami"] (Anderton, 1997, theme comparison— two designs); for Cohen’s Mondrian-focused article in Interior Design (1997), the connections to the Delano are (1) same approach for catching the local action and feeling of the site; (2) "musings take concrete form in the public space... like its predecessors [including] the Delano"; (3) the lobby bar resembles nothing but "perhaps at the Delano"; and (4) usage of white slipcovers "related to the pieces that caused a sensation at the Delano" (Cohen, 1997, overall strands: from theme comparison to comparisons of rooms and general furnishings, with [the linguistic hedging strategy using the verb "may"]); for Webb’s Mondrian-centred article in Interiors (1997), he offers mentions through "earlier collaborations", a contrast of exterior form from Art Deco tower to "dumb ’50s box" (comparison of two designs, exteriors), and approach— through quote of designer Anda Andrei "The Mondrian, like the Delano, is an oasis where people will look their best" (comparison of two properties, psychological-visual effects on viewer). Webb in Metropolis (1997), reangles the subject of the Mondrian via an emphasis on the role of light, again mentions the Delano as predecessor, yet elevates the Mondrian as "may well be the most striking of the bunch, because it is so minimal" (comparison and evaluation of two designs, one elevated), and task: "At the Delano, the team celebrated the flowing spaces of an architectural landmark; with the Mondrian, the task was to break down barriers in a cluttered, badly proportioned building and to create a sense of intimacy and mystery" (comparison of approach to interior and existing forms). In Webb for Hospitality Design (March-April 1997), he characterized the hotel through Schrager with "Schrager calls it ’uncomplicated sophistication’— a refined version of the ’simple chic’ of their collaboration at the Delano..." (comparison of approach regarding overall concept), and compares the effect of the outdoor spaces: "The pool court [at Mondrian] also opens out of the lobby and, like the garden at the Delano, is pure theater" (comparison of stylistic-psychological effect of layout).

The previous paragraph illustrates the movements of the Delano and its "parts" as subject to the Mondrian hotel and the reports regarding the London hotel projects, and illustrate their presences of "content hits"; highlighting these hits would illustrate the vast absences within these writings of a full-fledged comparison across the two hotels and the upcoming projects. Figures 1, 2 and 3 offer a means of assessing the writings from individual object in interior to the overall interior, and addresses voices in texts and across contexts, emphasizing the vast absences, with the working assumptions that the information presented is not only accurate in its researched, employed, and printed representations, but also that the written material is truthfully presented by all of those involved in the creation process, from those involved in the production of the piece, to the information providers. In the next section, the issues concerning the sociocultural processes that occur within magazine and newspaper writings are discussed, as well as the physical production of texts and their consumption.

Table of contents | The Problematic Discourse on "Philippe Starck’s" Delano Hotel (1999) - From Content to Form