Hotel idea offered for Ground Zero

Rocket ship: Art Nouveau hotel plan was conceived by Gaudi, a Spanish architect.

January 23, 2003|By Glenn Collins | Glenn Collins,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Halt the competition. Yet another world-class architect has created yet another design for Ground Zero. It is futuristic in the extreme, nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, topped with a star and polychromed in tile and marble. And it resembles nothing so much as a stalagmite -- or a Buck Rogers rocket ship.

The architect? Antonio Gaudi, the Barcelona visionary who was the greatest Spanish exponent of the Art Nouveau style. And the plan, for a New York hotel, was conceived in 1908.

A group of Catalan artists and an American architect intend to enter the never-realized Gaudi plan in the formal ground zero memorial design competition of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., scheduled to begin this spring.

Some of them make the extraordinary claim that the hotel was intended not only to be built in Manhattan early in the last century, but specifically at the very site where the World Trade Center was eventually built.

"If they only knew about this building, the people of New York would come to love it," said Marc Mascort i Boix, an artist who is co-editor of the Barcelona magazine Rojo and director of a team that has made computer models of the Gaudi building. "Bringing this to New York would be more important than the Olympic games."

He will present Gaudi's hotel plan at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York at 6 p.m. today.

Paul Laffoley, an American artist and architect based in Boston, has mounted a separate homegrown effort to win consideration for the Gaudi hotel at Ground Zero, and he plans to submit the project to the development corporation in April. "It is a prime example of posthumous architecture," he said.

Mascort thinks that the hotel's great hall could be adapted to a memorial for the victims of the terrorist attacks, "and could help the city to heal."

But the Gaudi boosters are flexible about the building's use -- as a hotel or a museum or an office complex -- and allow that "the building could be downtown, or on Fifth Avenue, or on Central Park West," Mascort said. "The main concept is to get together the different cultures of the planet under a common dome."

Birthday celebrated

The cultified Gaudi was celebrated with a rich calendar of events last year when Barcelona declared the 150th anniversary of his birth the Year of Gaudi. The hotel design, which was the subject of one of the exhibitions, has elements of two of Gaudi's Barcelona masterpieces, the exuberant 330-foot-high Sagrada Familia church and the undulating Casa Mila apartment house.

If the hotel, as designed, had been built, it would have been 1,181 feet to the top of its star, the world's tallest building. (The Empire State Building, at 1,250 feet, would then have claimed the title when it was completed in 1931.)

Gaudi's studio and files were destroyed by fire in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. But Juan Bassegoda i Nonell, curator of the Real Catedra Gaudi at the University of Barcelona, the state entity for Gaudi study, said that seven small original Gaudi pencil sketches for the American hotel had survived.

They were in a large Gaudi collection that the professor acquired for the university in 1971 from Juan Matamala y Flotats, a sculptor and artist who was Gaudi's assistant. The Gaudi works came from his father, Lorenzo Matamala y Pinyol, the principal model-maker and sculptor for the Sagrada Familia.

Bassegoda said that Juan Matamala, who would have been working in the Gaudi studio as a teenager in 1908, wrote a 64-page monograph in 1956, "describing the hotel project and making 10 additional drawings based on memories of what he had seen in 1908.

Although the project is described as a hotel, its central plan resembles a Brobdingnagian catering hall-cum-convention center, an all-purpose tourist attraction. Thus its name, remembered by Matamala as the Hotel Attraction.

Gaudi had planned something typically gaudy: like some of his works in Barcelona, the hotel was to have been rainbow-hued in tile and marble. It would have been a group of clustered towers, of reinforced concrete over steel, in Gaudi's sturdy trademark parabolic shapes that also animate the Sagrada Familia.

The hotel's 360-foot- by-360-foot ground floor was to contain a titanic reception hall, surrounded by large saloons connected to a clutch of outbuildings and towers containing meeting rooms, apartments and hotel rooms.

In the central tower there were to be five monumental dining rooms dedicated to five continents; each was to seat 400.

Yet another dining room on the sixth floor was to be topped by an exhibition hall, and above that was planned a theater and conference room.

Atop that was to be a cathedral-like 375-foot-high space honoring all the American presidents, in a hall decorated with stained glass windows, mosaics and frescos.

The starlike top, which Matamala said was called the sphere of all space, would have afforded a panoramic view.

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