Architecture Section: Red Eye, Red Light, Red Alert: Smirnoff Button Room,
By Tia Blasingame
How I repeatedly got lost walking from Central Station to the Winston Hotel is still beyond me. (Almost as perplexing is why I purchased an overpriced map from a travel agency after receiving directions. Dumb, useless tourist purchase #1.) The walk to the hotel should be a hop, skip, and a jump from the train station. It is located on the edge of the infamous Red light District, surrounded by entertaining sex shops like Condomania. Too early to check into my room, I left my bag at the hotel and headed down the street to get a cup of tea and a stroopwafel.
After a day spent enduring the cold rain on canal boats, in cafes, stores, and museums, I returned weary and ready to experience the Button room. The room was designed in 2001 by Dutch architect Jasper de Haan and visual artist Dirk Krechting. From the outset, the pair were determined to create an interactive space. They felt that that the room should not be your typical hotel room – staid and comfortable, but confrontational, bold and at times disquieting. They forged the Smirnoff Button Room from bleeding red walls, cool metal frames, and admonition, I noted as I open the chrome-plate door. Interestingly, the entrance is a bomb-proof steel door plated in chrome fashioned by the Israelis. What am I in for?
As I open the door to this small yet efficiently appointed room, I am confronted with bright red walls that are framed by metal structures. In front of me is a lovely European balcony and the only source of natural light. To my left a metal scaffold tucked in the corner functions as a skeletal wardrobe for towels and clothing. Separated by the sink this "closet" mimics the covered volume that the stainless steel shower presents. The round stone basin sits atop a diminutive stainless steel pedestal. This sink is crowned by a small round mirror suspended from the ceiling. The mirror’s round form echoes the round opening in the frosted glass shower door. Careful when taking a shower. If you are tall enough to peer through the peephole in the shower door, you might, with some overzealous handling of the showerhead, find yourself watering the minimalist sink and corrugated aluminum floor.
To my right, the low bed, with its simple curved wood platform studded with small porthole lights, dominates the space and is aligned with the sink and mirror. Above the bed on the aluminum ceiling is a replica of the bed, except this one has a dark plastic cover instead of a mattress and bedding. Behind this, the principal bed is centered between a metal scaffold,that anchors modest side tables to either side of the bed and a large red button tempts guests. In bold lettering, a sticker below the button warns: DO NOT TOUCH BUTTON. The Smirnoff sticker on the button itself is slightly rubbed off. The wear on this label tells me that others have not heeded the warning and pushed the button. What fate did they suffer?
I push the button, and as though I have been caught inside a Transformer toy just as it begins to change from benign robot to fighting machine, the conversion begins in a sudden clamorous fashion. As a motor begins to whisper and cool the space, steel partitions plated in chrome roll down all four walls. The balcony is blocked. While I still have access to the door, I have the sense that it would not open even if I tried it. These metal shutters effectively shut you off from the world. Red walls have been replaced by these chrome ones that appear icy blue as they reflect the small porthole lights of the suspended "bed," upon which images flicker. I realize that cameras have been recording my activities from several angles. I being to look for the cameras. I can locate their approximate positions, but find no trace of them beyond what the images dancing on the ceiling intimate. I consider what I have been doing. Have I done anything that I would prefer no one to see, let alone record? Would I do it all again knowing that someone would be watching? Would I be more chaste? More mindful of the lens?
All the while, I am voyeuristically watching, seeing what the voyeur has seen of me. Who will watch my inhabitation of this space when I have left? Who has seen me? Are these images saved? In a time when we are watched by cameras and encouraged to vigilantly watch our neighbors, this space should not seem disturbing or unfamiliar. Yet somehow as my notions of privacy and personal space are turned upside down, I am isolated and punished. More significantly, I feel guilty because it seems to be my own fault. Damn button, I was warned. If I had not pushed it, would ignorance truly be bliss? Filmed without my knowledge of consent? I am left to ponder these questions as the chrome-plated walls roll up and the temperature returns to normal. The music and images fade away.
While I highly recommend lodging in the Button Room, it might not be available. It is a very popular room. The Winston’s fourteen year collaboration with artists and architects has produced many unique spaces. Take an "I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours" stance in order to see occupied rooms such as "My Place is Your Place" or, "Anne et ik" down the hall, or any of the countless rooms on the hotel’s seven floors: a veritable art maze. Be prepared for curious guests knocking on your door; they just want to see your digs. Don’t be suspicious. It is an easy way to meet people in a strange city.
The main entrance and lobby are deceptively narrow; they do not forecast the voluminous seven floors of eclectic rooms and art walls that await you in addition to the hotel‘s neighboring dance club. With more rooms constantly coming on-line, check the website (www.Winston.nl) to discover which rooms will debut during your stay. Though, after pushing the button the previous night, it was peaceful waking to white morning light reflecting off the aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome throughout the Button Room, next time I would try "Stress Relief," the sleep relaxation room.