england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.


loo with a view

In truth, Naboisho Camp is still ironing out a few freshman issues that all hotels experience. Yet there’s no denying that this campsite has been spectacularly designed.  Even the common loo has a fantastic view.


shining a light

Let’s face it: despite its warm and oh, so forgiving embrace, the soft light of an incandescent bulb will soon be something of a fond and distant memory. Compact fluorescent bulbs – also called CFLs – not only last up to ten times longer than your standard Edison invention, they also use 75% less energy. To put that in perspective, if every American home replaced just one incandescent light with a CFL, we would collectively save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, pocket an additional $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year – that’s the equivalent of about 800,000 cars. With those statistics in mind it’s no wonder the EU, Russia, and Canada have begun a formal once-and-for-all phase-out of the humble bulb. Unfortunately, the problem people have with most CFLs are not environmental but aesthetic: the tight coil of a standard CFL bulb produces a cold, full spectrum light that’s flat and dull at best – and highly unflattering, too. With the clock ticking down to the bulb’s outright ban in the EU, a group of designers at Hulger in London set about trying to bridge the gap between what will soon become a standardized design with the daily needs of humankind – while keeping aesthetics in mind, too, of course. A Herculean task – just think about what it might take to reinvent any item whose success we take for granted on a daily basis: a screw, the key and lock combo, credit cards – they somehow alighted on the Plumen, at once a low-wattage homage to its immediate predecessors and a boldly futuristic and practical design choice. Lowering the wattage to an unheard of 11, the CFL nevertheless emits a power of 630 lumen – the equivalent of a 55 watt bulb.  Unspooling the tight coil of a regulation fluorescent into a shape reminiscent of a standard issue incandescent allows the light to breathe, if that makes any sense. Rather than lighting out, like the rays of a two-dimensional sun, the Plumen light radiates both in and out, bouncing off an interior faux filament that makes all the difference – and a lampshade altogether unnecessary. It’s the light of the future. Even better, it’s by design.


wishlist: treehotel

Home to the indigenous Sami people, the region of Lapland criss-crosses the Arctic Circle, straddling the Northern extremes of  Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia.  It’s an austerely beautiful place that I’ve been lucky enough to visit in the depth of winter once before.  Now, with news of the remarkable new Treehotel, I am eager to make a return visit.

There’s not much exact news available except for the fact that two entrepreneurs got inspired by the philosophical Swedish documentary Treelover, in which three men build a tree house together and discover what “the tree” means to them as humans, both historically and culturally.

These entrepreneurs thought it would be an interesting concept to expand on the ideas in the film by creating the ultimate treehouse – with the added dimension of innovative modern design.

Surrounded by natural forests in the village of Harads in northern Sweden (pop. 600), Treehotel looks like boutique eco-design heaven – as well as the ultimate experience in undisturbed nature.  And because this is Sweden, there’s even a tree sauna.  (How they pull that one off, I would love to see for myself.)

Currently there are six individual “rooms” nestled up in the pine trees:  The Bird’s Nest, The UFO, The Blue Cone, The Cabin and The Mirror Cube, with more fanciful rooms with a view scheduled to open in 2011.  An adventure awaits!


seven and seven is

The creators of Five Hotel – the Parisian design hotel with conceptual guestrooms based around the five senses – recently opened their newest numerically-inspired creation along the rue Berthollet in the Latin Quarter:  Seven Hotel.  (Don’t ask what happened to Six)

In atypical Parisian fashion, the hotel invites you on an out-of-the-ordinary space journey from the moment you enter the bubble-filled reception area. Three-dimensional images of bubbles float across huge television screens and drift off into the lounge and bar, where you can sip champagne and drink in the bubbly ambiance. (there’s nothing too literal or half-hearted about this concept)  On each successive level of the hotel, the future/sexy/Amsterdam whorehouse theme continues, transporting guests to an alternate reality with trippy one-of-a-kind decor from floor to ceiling, like illuminated Plexiglass furniture and perfume dispensers linked to TV channels to rooms bathed in starlit skies of blue fiber optic lighting.  A how-did-they-do-that highlight is the floating bed in the center of each room. Some rooms even include a levitating bathtub – now how did they do that?!?

Additionally, there are seven suites – get it? – each with a specific theme created by a different designer and aesthetically unrelated to the rest of the hotel.  Go figure. The Alice in Wonderland suite evokes an imaginary world featuring clocks and mirrors. The Marie-Antoinette suite imagines what the eccentric queen’s boudoir might look like today (hint:  leather), while the 007 suite puts you in the mind of the suave secret agent with a series of 007’s gadgets and an over-sized TV stocked with all the Bond films you could possibly want – and even some you don’t.  Other rooms have even more conceptual themes – the on/off suite and Once Upon A Time room are full of inventiveness and Proustian surprises.  But don’t let the suites fool you – the real wow factor comes in the spacey oversized singles.  I mean, c’mon, when was the last time you slept in a levitating bed?


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