Marcel Breuer’s brutalist office in Connecticut reopens as Hotel Marcel
Architecture studio Becker + Becker has converted a 1970s brutalist building in New Haven, designed by Hungarian-American architect Marcel Breuer, into a Passive House hotel.
Connecticut-based studio Becker + Becker, which bought the building from IKEA in 2019 after it had sat unused for more than twenty years, retained the facade of the Breuer-designed structure while updating the interiors.
Now named Hotel Marcel in honor of the original architect, the 165-room hotel opened in May 2022 under the Tapestry Collection by Hilton Hotels.
Acting as both architect and developer, Becker + Becker renovated the building over the past three years removing asbestos from the former office building and repairing its facade.
The distinctive form of Breuer’s original design – a wide structure with a void in the middle supported by columns so that the top floors and lower floors are divided into two sections – was retained.
Externally the structure appears how Breuer designed it except for a section of the building that was torn down by IKEA in order to build a parking lot.
According to Becker + Becker president Bruce Becker, the project had two main aims – on the one hand, preservation of the landmark structure, and on the other finding ways to make the building more sustainable.
It was designed to be the first hotel in the USA to achieve Passive House certification and is also aiming to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
“With the climate crisis we’re facing, there’s a realization that it’s really hard to justify building a new building,” Becker told Dezeen.
“Poured-in-place concrete walls and precast concrete panels are typically easier than other wall systems to seal and make airtight to reduce infiltration.”
More than one thousand solar panels completely power the structure and were even used to provide electricity for the final stages of construction. The solar panels cover the roof and an additional solar field near the hotel.
The studio made several other interventions including opening up utility spaces at the centre of the top floor – a double-height space supported by steel trusses – to create a courtyard that lets in light for a series of meeting rooms.
This opening also allowed the architecture studio to build light wells that bring in additional light to rooms that were placed at the middle of the floor plates.
The hotel’s interiors were designed by Brooklyn studio Dutch East Design, which turned the offices and research labs into 165 luxury rooms as well as lobbies and amenity spaces.
Since much of the original interiors were unusable, the renovation was intensive and Dutch East brought in furniture from a number of local craftsmen.
To pay homage to the exterior, the interior designers included a terracotta frieze in the lobby that resembles the precast concrete panels on the exterior facade.
Minimal furniture and white walls with wood finishes characterize much of the public and private spaces of the hotel.
Designed by Breuer, the building was originally completed in 1970 as the offices for Armstrong Rubber Company.
It was turned into the North American headquarters of tyre company Pirelli in 1988, who then left the building unoccupied until 2003, when it was purchased by Swedish furniture giant IKEA.
Breuer was one of the 20th century’s most significant architects who was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1968.
A master at the Bauhaus, he fled Germany to London as the Nazis gained power and subsequently moved to USA where he designed over 100 buildings including New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
In 2000 the the brutalist office was declared historically protected through the efforts of the New Haven Arts Council’s Alliance for Architecture.
Armstrong Rubber Co. first initiated the building’s construction in 1966 with the presentation of a proposal to develop a site at the intersection of Interstates 91 and 95 to then-mayor of New Haven, Richard C. Lee. Lee allowed the purchase on the condition the firm would hire a world-renowned architect; Lee desired New Haven to become “America’s model city”. While the company originally proposed a low rise structure, Lee suggested a building with eight to ten stories. In response, the project’s architect, Marcel Breuer, designed a plan suspending the company’s administrative offices two stories above a two-story research and development space.The negative space between the building’s two forms was intended to reduce sound in the offices from the development labs below.
The building was completed in 1970 at a cost of $6.5 million.It would serve Armstrong Rubber for 18 years. In 1988, Pirelli purchased the company. It sold the site to mall developers in June 1999, who aimed to build a large mall on the site, with Nordstrom as one of the anchors. The project was abandoned by 2000, and mall company Westfield America purchased the site in March 2001.
Beginning in May 1999 and spanning over a decade, the Pirelli Tire Building was unoccupied and largely unused, as plans evolved for the site.The lack of use was criticized by preservation groups as encouraging demolition by neglect. A vandal broke into the building in 1999, stealing $50 in copper piping, though causing thousands of dollars in damage.
When plans for a mall on the site began to take traction, the possibility of the demolition of the Breuer building led to efforts to list the site on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places.It was listed in 2000, following efforts by city officials, preservationists, and the New Haven Arts Council’s Alliance for Architecture.
The furniture manufacturer IKEA purchased the site in 2003, soon after announcing plans to build an adjacent store and demolish a 64,000-square-foot (5,900 m2) section of the building for 150 parking spaces. The plan was criticized by the Long Wharf Advocacy Group, a local coalition that sought to pursue alternatives for the site that better preserved the structure. The Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects criticized the plan as well. Despite community criticism, IKEA demolished most of the low-rise portion of the structure in April 2003 for construction of a parking lot, saving only the portion below the suspended offices; the demolition was criticized for disrupting the intended asymmetrical visual balance of the structure.IKEA’s store on the site opened in July 2004; the company used the building and its sign to hang massive billboard-like advertisements on the structures, facing the interstate.
During its vacancy, the building occasionally saw temporary exhibition uses. In 2002, it hosted hundreds of artists as part of the annual “City-Wide Open Studios” event. In 2017, New-Haven-born visual artist Tom Burr utilized the entire first floor of a conceptual art exhibition titled Body/Building.
In 2018, reports emerged of the possible development of a hotel on the site. In December 2019, the 2.76-acre (1.12 ha) property containing the building was purchased from IKEA for $1.2 million by Connecticut architect and developer Becker + Becker, who announced plans to convert it into a “net zero energy boutique hotel and conference center”. The building was also planned to be the first Passive House-certified hotel in the U.S., meaning it generates its own heat, electricity, and hot water. IKEA had rejected several previous offers for the property, though was encouraged by Becker’s plans enough to sell the property. It opened as the 165-room Hotel Marcel, named for its architect, on May 16, 2022.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021.
The hotel renovation included few exterior changes, save for new windows and power-washing the concrete. The work instead focused on modern interiors and sustainability efforts including solar panels, a battery system, and all-electric mechanical equipment.The renovators aim for the hotel to become one of few LEED Platinum-certified hotel buildings in the United States.Becker + Becker hired Violette de La Selle as the site’s project manager.
Site and exterior
The building is situated near the Connecticut Turnpike (part of I-95) and New Haven Harbor, and is adjacent to an IKEA store.
The building was designed by modernist architects Marcel Breuer and Robert F. Gatje in the Brutalist style. It has 36 bays along its length and 13 bays at its sides, with a flat roof.It has a heavy mass, constructed primarily from concrete.Its facade is constructed entirely of pre-cast concrete paneling designed to provide sun protection and visual depth.It has a two-story base with thick columns above it, leaving a 17-foot gap between the base and a five-story upper section. The roughly two-story gap was originally intended to lower the noise from the building’s two-story research, development, and productions laboratories, allowing the administrative office spaces bove to be quieter. The design allowed two floors to be added into the space in the future.
The building has a steel frame. It was one of the first buildings in which the floor framing was suspended from overhead cantilevered trusses. Each of the seven 50-ton trusses supported the steel-framed block below them.
At the northeast corner of the building is a freestanding three-story concrete structure, formerly a sign for the Armstrong Rubber Company. The structure, built concurrently with the building, contributes to the site’s National Register of Historic Places listing
Interior and hotel use
The building was constructed as the headquarters for Armstrong Rubber Company, including office and research space.The building originally had 183,000 square feet (17,000 m2), though IKEA demolished about 64,000 sq ft (5,900 m2) of the building in 2003; the current building is estimated at 107,100 sq ft (9,950 m2).
The interior was converted into a hotel from 2020 to 2022. The Brooklyn-based design studio Dutch East Design was hired for the interior design and branding for the hotel. The hotel includes 165 guest rooms, a lobby, a restaurant called BLDG, bar, and event space. It is operated by Hilton’s Tapestry brand.Since its renovation, the building has had numerous energy efficiency installations. These include triple-glazed windows to stabilize inside temperatures, all-electric machinery for laundry and kitchens, as well as solar panels covering its parking lot and hotel roof. In 2021, the panels were estimated to generate 700,000 kilowatt hours per year, enough to cover the hotel’s needs. Other sustainability measures include 14 EV charging stations and an electric 14-person shuttle for those without cars.There are approximately 130 parking spaces for hotel guests on a surface lot by the building.
The building’s lobby retains original features including a set of stairs, granite floor tiles, and wall tiles, as well as one of its original pieces of furniture: a polished granite reception desk, moved across the hall into a vestibule near an event space.
The hotel rooms are designed with contrasting grays and walnut wood. They feature Cesca chairs, designed by Marcel Breuer, as well as custom modular furniture for storage designed by Dutch East Design. The largest rooms are on the eighth floor, in the former executive suites. Many of these feature couches, kitchenettes, and soaking tubs. The east-facing rooms look out over New Haven Harbor, while the west-facing rooms look out over the New Haven skyline.
The top floor of the building is two stories in height, without windows. It primarily housed mechanical equipment, though the hotel renovation modified much of the space.
“Brutalist buildings like the Pirelli building are works of art that can inspire and elevate the quality and meaning of our daily lives,” said Becker, whose studio has restored a number of mid-century structures throughout New England.
“It is hard to place a value on that but it is fundamental to our humanity.”
Other Brutalist structures that have been renovated for new use include Georges Batzios Architects’ renovation of an office building in Greece. In Canada, ERA Architects turned a mid-century apartment building into the world’s tallest retrofitted Passivehaus structure.
The building has faced considerable public criticism. According to Business Insider in 2018, the building was rated as the state’s ugliest by Connecticut residents. The building is however supported by architects including the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the preservation group Docomomo.
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