The Problematic Discourse on ’Philippe Starck’s’ Delano Hotel (1999) - Introduction

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Art Design Publicity at ADC | 16 June 2012

Philippe Starck is an international design and media superstar. Throughout the 1980s and well into the ’90s, he has produced signature designs from Paris to Tokyo to New York to Los Angeles, with a press engine machine stressing fun and theatrical sophistication— with characterizations of the eccentric genius— wherever he goes. In 1995, the media frenzy descended on Miami Beach, Florida, for the opening of Starck’s latest creation— the renovation of the Delano hotel— set with a range of references which attract media publication— celebrity, including sexualized songbird Madonna as co-owner of the hotel’s restaurant, the Blue Door; Philippe Starck, the international and exotically French design genius; and lead owner, Ian Schrager, a New York-based hotelier and celebrity media specialist, opening his third Starck-collaborated hotel— and popular celebrity-icon himself as the former co-owner of the notorious Studio 54 discotheque in New York. The stage set for the media triangle consists of Miami’s South Beach, a formerly decaying tropical Art Deco architectural historical district, and since the late 1980s, it has been reclaimed by the painfully hip and characterized as America’s Riviera. But the celebrity press was just one outlet for the hotel, and has included the travel, lifestyle, art and design, and industry magazine publications, as well as the newspaper genres addressing these orientations profiling the introduction of a "new" hotel concept— something noteworthy and terribly exciting.

Since 1995, the Delano hotel has been addressed in over 100 pieces of writing, with the design of the hotel referred to in various Delano-centred article angles, and in various contexts. A conventional, design-centred information-gathering approach would undoubtably incorporate discussion of the exterior’s whiteness (See Ill. 1), which visually contrasts with the colorful palettes of surrounding buildings in the architectural district; the lobby interior with its compartmentalized, yet flowing white drapery and stage sets which include a focal point-positioned Charles and Ray Eames’ La Chaise (1948) (See Ill. 3-8); its frontal exterior landscape with tall hedge and Alice in Wonderland-like blue door leading to the porch (See Ill. 1-2); its back garden which includes the pool-dubbed-"water salon" (See Ill. 10-13); and its almost completely white rooms and furnishings, and notorious, edible, green apple installation (See Ill. 15-16). For design process assertions, the most likely candidates for information-providing include the owner, Ian Schrager, statements by Philippe Starck, as well as Anda Andrei ["director of design for Schrager’s hotels", (Nasatir 1995) [1]. Further, various specific contexts might be addressed and investigated using similar starting points, or requests for more detailed information from various information gatekeepers, with methodologies employed, in an attempt to authoritatively present the history of the Delano hotel.

From Working on the Surface to Beneath the Surface

Yet, instead of talking about Starck’s Delano hotel working with the assumption that I am the newfound authority— or aspiring authority— whereby a procedural digestion of material will be selected and presented for consumption, this work focuses on the process and problems of the existing literature as a starting— and end— point. It addresses certain questions about what we know about this design, and why we know certain things about it. It affects what we write about Starck and his Delano design and what we don’t write about them. What we know about Starck and his designs is shaped within a publishing system— without it, we would know nothing about him— and this system approaches designs and designers through sociocultural processes, written genres, through written angles, containing statements and content created by discourses and language, and this system has facilitated Philippe Starck’s becoming a design celebrity— and the world’s most famous designer of our time.

In the 90s, almost anything Starckian is a good publishable story, or at least a good mention. In only a twenty-year span, by 1999 the discourse on Starck has reached phenomenal proportions— in fact, it’s infinite. Within well over 1000 articles, Starck has reached this celebrity status— his name appearing in published material ranging from interviews and profiles to mentions in product announcements to a fleeting sentence mentioning his notorious kettle (Siner in The Guardian 1995). On the book front, Starck continues to gain more book-orientated attention, with publications by Fay Sweet (1998) and Conway Lloyd Morgan (1999) this year, adding to the other books which profile him and his work [Starck 1992, [...], Bertoni 1994, Taschen 1994, Taschen 1996, Colin 1997, Electra / Alessi 1996, and Taschen 1997 (a "book" of postcards)], and this doesn’t even begin to consider the possibilities of mentions in a wide variety of survey books addressing everything from Post-World War II design, to French design, to a survey on hotels, to 101 objects for the home. Further, his work is the subject of many British-orientated university lectures, student reports, and seminars, as publishers, writers, and academics attempt in various ways to understand and talk about Starck, his designs, his written discourse, and to understand how he has become so famous. In this study, Starck is used as a mega-published figure to demonstrate that while the sources are infinite, we still know very little about his designs, and the information that is published is problematic and needs to be considered within its writing contexts. Specifically, the writings on Starck’s design for the Delano hotel in Miami Beach, also with infinite written sources despite its recent completion in 1995, is used as a case study to discuss the problems with these published writings specifically, and the problems with writing on design in general. In other words, if we can’t figure out Starck, what contemporary designer can we figure out?

This discussion about the problems of the writings begins with the information-gathering process and is determined by drawing from a variety of disciplines to create a design-specific means of assessing writings on an interior design— exemplified with the Delano. By looking at the writings on the design, the context is that the writings are a surface structure of a decision-making process. Drawing upon Norman Fairclough’s Media Discourse (1995b) as an organizational construct, this study first explores the informational and source "totality" for information on the hotel, which conceptually highlights the potential presences of certain kinds of information in the texts, as well as the absences of information. Secondly, the sociocultural processes are explored, including the legal issues for publication which affect the absences in writings in general. Thirdly, the genres, voices, and discourses used to discuss the hotel are discussed, with an emphasis on the genres of the writing, drawing on the work of applied linguists Swales, Bhatia, and Dudley-Evans.

Next, this case study looks at the information within the genres, using a modified visual arts content model, the "informational totality" which is initially presented, to see what is actually being stated about the hotel— and its problems. Over 100 samples are used to determine the current state of our knowledge on the Delano, and shows that we know very little. The content is discussed taking into account specific problems and issues with information-gathering regarding the Delano and the visual arts material it represents, and it highlights that the writing on the design is rather predictable. From an information-gathering perspective, the study attempts to show the problems of design historical inquiry. By using an example from the present, the study raises question to the procedures employed in assessing contemporary work. It also takes a step further, the study asks— if we can’t answer the questions now, how can we answer certain questions through the distance of time? This study also takes into account the writings of David Carrier, Artwriting (1987) and Principles of Art History Writing (1991) who uses argumentation as a means of showing how humanistic interpretation in art history results in the endless creation of often unresolvable art fiction. It raises question to art historical procedures and evidence-claim structures from the basic level— to which academics and journalists share—and shows competing design fictional aspects are already in place, and it questions the competing design (and art) fictions of our writings— even before academic research has really begun, ready for referencing, packaging, and consumption by future researchers. Further, the issue of Language and Power (Fairclough 1989) arises, given the dynamics of information-gathering and publishing, leading to the question: to what extent can a designer manipulate her discourse?

Finally, there is another thread in this dissertation, which through the language-oriented procedures in assessing the cumulative discourse in section V, is significant to the "content" of the design. The designs and media savvy of Philippe Starck teamed up with the media specialism of Ian Schrager raise the question: Has a fusion occurred between interiors and furnishings on the one hand, and media on the other? Does this design illustrate a visual-and-verbal fusion of "media design", to grab our senses, and our desire for the sensational? The evidence suggests an uneasy alliance that adds a new dimension to interiors and other "installations"— and possible pre-planned manipulation, with concerns for the future.

Table of contents | The Problematic Discourse on ’Philippe Starck’s’ Delano Hotel (1999) - Introduction