» Touted as one of the 'it' projects of 2005, owing to its exorbitant cost and cadre of notable designers, the Hotel Puerta America on the outskirts of Madrid simultaneously enthralls and confuses. Commissioned by Spanish company Silken Hotels, 19 prominent architects and designers, some working individually and others in pairs, were provided with an outlet to explore their creativity without budgetary constraints. (The final cost of the 342-room hotel was over $90 million.) The result is a series of elaborately designed spaces; so different in their styles that one design magazine referred to the hotel as an 'interior-design theme park.'

Any evaluation of the individual designs is clouded by larger, more serious issues raised by this project, everything from the selection of the location-a nondescript area of Madrid at the city's periphery, not its center-to the role of a hotel and the experience provided to its guests. The project concept was 'to create a hotel that was unique, merging different ways of seeing architecture, design, and art.' And in that sense, Puerta America is a success, creating an eclectic sensory experience both calming and disruptive as guests move between spaces and styles. The work of the architects, designers, and landscape architects involved in the project follows either a luxurious, modern aesthetic or a hi-tech futuristic design typology.

In contrast, the lighting for these diverse spaces was the charge of a single firm, London-based Isometrix Lighting and Design, whose designers, Arnold Chan, Mark Elliott, and Gerardo Olvera, had the monumental task of coordinating the building's lighting scheme, while supporting the design concept of each architect and designer. The lighting throughout responds individually to each space-from the restaurant's custom pendants to cold cathode in the fourth-floor corridor to the LED installations used by several of the architects-the attention to detail and fluid incorporation of the lighting within the architecture are two of the few, if only, constants in the building. Isometrix's solutions 'involved minimum visibility of the light sources, wherever possible,' says Chan. 'The primary elements are indirect coves, lighting slots, and lighting integral to the furniture elements.' This integration of architectural form and lighting is apparent in the floors designed by Kathryn Findlay, Norman Foster, and Plasma Studio. It is particularly present on the floors by Zaha Hadid and Ron Arad, who used a material made by LG Electronics called Hi-Macs, a ductile Corian and fiberboard composite that allows fluid planar surfaces, creating furniture elements that amorphously emerge from the walls.

Taken in its entirety, one has to wonder what the diverse array of Puerta America's aesthetics says about hotel design and its role in creating hospitable environments. Rather than a welcoming respite for the weary traveler, each space within the hotel and on its grounds is a destination unto itself, devoid of any connection to the immediate site or Madrid.

Indeed, the message the Hotel Puerta America delivers is puzzling. A variety of aesthetic styles does not innovation make. If this project was really meant to challenge the experience of hotel accommodations, as some of the marketing materials would suggest, the project does not succeed beyond design acrobatics. At its core, these 'design explorations' are still locked in the confines of a box-individual rooms in a 12-story building with double-loaded corridors and a central elevator lobby.

One of the more curious design choices is the text that adorns the facade in several languages: phrases from the poem 'Liberty,' written by lyrical poet and a founder of surrealism Paul luard. The poem, written during Word War II, speaks to the everyday struggles of man. It seems misplaced in its use as a decorative facade treatment for a five-star luxury hotel whose accommodations are intended for hardly an 'everyday' clientele.

There is no doubt about the expert execution of these spaces. However, the array of design elements is dizzying, and rather than an engaging whole comprised of strong individual pieces, the result is chaotic. Moreover, the project does not support the important role avant-guard design and architecture can play, but rather reinforces the stereotype that design is the privilege and whimsy of a select few. elizabeth donoff

project: Hotel Puerta America location: Madrid architects/designers: John Pawson (Lobby); Marc Newson (Marmo Bar and Floor 6); Christian Liaigre (Black Tears Restaurant); Zaha Hadid (Floor 1); Norman Foster (Floor 2); David Chipperfield (Floor 3); Plasma Studio (Floor 4), Victorio & Lucchino (Floor 5); Ron Arad (Floor 7); Kathryn Findlay and Jason Bruges (Floor 8); Richard Gluckman (Floor 9); Arata Isozaki (Floor 10); Javier Mariscal and Fernando Salas (Floor 11); Jean Nouvel (Floor 12, penthouse, and facade); Teresa Sapey (parking garage); B+B UK (landscaping); SGA Estudio (hotel structure) lighting designer: Isometrix Lighting and Design, London ** images: Courtesy Silken Hotels