Viennese architects Kohlmayr Lutter Knapp have come up with an adaptive new use for the empty retail spaces dotting the Austrian capital: hotel rooms. Mostly around 250 square feet in size, the small disused shops are being converted into street level lofts nicknamed Urbanauts. The master plan calls for different Urbanauts clustered together in one neighborhood making up a decentralized hotel, with services dotted around the area: the coffeehouse next door is the breakfast room, the hammam across the street is the spa, and the hotel bar is that trendy watering hole around the corner. Amenities and local tips are plotted on a map provided in the room. And the lobby? It’s the whole city. The concept is designed to offer guests a real feel for the surrounding urban space, and an alternative to the run-of-the-mill tourist traps. Guests step out of their room right onto the sidewalk, but the spaces still offer a private and convenient retreat for travelers. Guests can decide how much of the view outwards – and inwards – to reveal, using a clever blind system. And as part of the emphasis on locality, artists from the immediate environs are invited to design the rooms. Rates top out at around €120 per night per Urbanaut, including breakfast and the use of two bicycles. Space helmets not included.


one night in mongkok

Mongkok, I learned today, means Busy Corner. It’s a working class neighborhood with the flair of old Hong Kong, teeming with markets of every stripe, food vendors, night markets, neon, and thousands and thousands of people all cheek by jowl. The name is apt. This is the Hong Kong I had envisioned. A city still on the skirt of urban renewal.


live blog: puerto madero

The city’s second old harbor  – BA is now its third – is Puerto Madero, a renovated docklands and marina complex with a string of good restaurants housed in the old brick warehouses.  Posh yachts clubs sit among old cranes and historic tall ships, with the stylish silhouette of Santiago Calatrava’s Bridge to the Woman in the background.  Not only is this the safest part of town, the mix of condominiums, office blocks and hotels also make it feel like the most modern part of the city, too.

An interesting side note to the warehouses that line the docks:  when we first drove by I could have sworn I was looking at the Albert Docks in Liverpool, England.  (Another recently revitalized docklands)  The color of brick, the style of the architecture – it looked plucked out of Victorian England.  Well, it turns out the bricks are, in fact, British.  During Argentina’s shipping heyday, the boats transporting goods to the UK needed ballast for the return journey across the Atlantic.  What did they use?  English bricks.

And because this wouldn’t be a proper posting without some mention of food, check out the crazy red color of the salmon we had for lunch.


live blog: la vida la boca

Buenos Aires is sprawling city of distinct neighborhoods.  One of the more colorful is La Boca, the original port of Buenos Aires at the mouth of the Riachuelo river. A ramshackle collection of corrugated tin houses along cobbled streets, Italian immigrants originally made it their own, residing in tiny spaces while living their lives out in the street – much like the great wave of immigrants took to NYC’s lower east side.  Music fills the air of La Boca, along with the smell of parrilla, or Argentine barbecue.  And while the pedestrianized street of Caminito might be thronged with artisans and tango dancers cashing in on the tourist buck, life in the rest of the barrio is still very much authentic – and public to boot.


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