"Hotels are becoming the generic accommodation of the Generic City, its most common building block. That used to be the office — which at least implied a coming and a going, assumed the presence of other important accommodations elsewhere. Hotels are now containers that, in the expansion and completeness of their facilities, make almost all other buildings redundant. Even doubling as shopping malls, they are the closest we have to urban existence, 21st-century style."
- Rem Koolhaas
In his 1995 text The Generic City, Koolhaas described a transformation of the urban environment that seem to conflate two traditionally distinct typologies, the office and the house, into one, the hotel.
This phenomenon is, of course, not due to an architectural whim or to an ephemeral design fashion or style. Rather, it demonstrates how the activities of working and living, as well as their mutual relationship, have changed in the post-industrial metropolis.
On the one hand, work became more and more detached from processes of industrial production. Today, it can increasingly be described as an activity that has to do with the processing, manipulation, and — ultimately — production of information. Work has become largely immaterial and its value does not reside anymore in the material qualities of the objects produced but in the amount and quality of information and knowledge embedded into it.
However, the “production of knowledge” is neither easy to be conceptually described, nor spatially captured as it tends to be performed in spaces that are not traditionally recognised as working environments. In fact, knowledge work does not exclusively belong anymore to a sphere of activities performed in institutionalised spaces but it has spilled over into the city. Today, the boundaries that used to isolate corporate headquarters, universities, libraries, museums within the urban fabric are becoming more and more porous, producing environments that are increasingly less specific.
Housing is no exception to this process.
Following Foucault, we could say that the activities related to the care of the self, the application of the technologies of the self (i.e. the ‘specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves’, Foucault), traditionally performed in the domestic space, fully belong to the productive cycle.
These processes could be described as an increasing domestication of the working environment or by the symmetrical phenomenon of the appropriation of ever larger parts of the domestic space by working activities.
In this framework, the design studio Hotel Paris recognises the city of Paris as an ideal laboratory for designing prototypes of what Charles Rice would describe as Interior Urbanism, where — in the hybrid typology of the hotel — a multiplicity of programmes and spatial qualities that belong to the contemporary city converge.
Paris will provide a set of references that can be instrumentalised on different levels.
In terms of knowledge work, Paris is recognised as a laboratory for the production of (institutional) knowledge across generations of projects for museums and libraries, ranging from the Louvre to the Centre Pompidou and the Palais de Tokyo, and to the projects for the Biblioteque Nationale on the Richelieu and the Mitterrand sites. In terms of housing, Paris is recognised as a laboratory for housing typologies that are not just houses, from the hotels particuliers to the experiments of the twentieth century avant-gardes.
Finally, Paris is recognised as a laboratory of interior urbanism, from the passages, to the commercial galleries, to the grand palaces for the World Exhibitions, to the continuous refurbishing of Les Halles.
In parallel to the wealth of buildings and spaces that can be studied and directly experienced, Paris “hosts” a series of unbuilt, and yet very influential, projects that mark the history of architecture and the production of a specific disciplinary knowledge, such as the National Library designed by Boullee and the Jussieu Library designed by OMA, or the projects for the La Villette park by OMA and by Peter Eisenman.
These ghost projects will be used in the unfolding of the studio activities as an excuse to imagine alternative futures for a series of sites and buildings in Paris, and to design prototypes for living and working, where an ideal knowledge worker can find a (more or less temporary) home and a workplace.