WORDS Annette Klinger IMAGES Paris Brummer
In its transformation from the iconic Metlife Centre office block to Hotel Sky Cape Town, conference rooms and cubicles have made way for 535 hi-tech hotel suites – and two adorable automation to carry your bags.
“Hello, welcome to Hotel Sky. I am Ariel. How can I assist you?” Delivered in a soothing, measured tone, the welcoming refrain sounds every few minutes – whenever a guest enters the lobby of the newly minted Hotel Sky in Cape Town’s Foreshore. The voice emanates not from one of the friendly receptionists, but from a robot with expressive LCD eyes that has been programmed to answer more than 2 000 questions. And bring you room service.
Joined by her equally helpful colleague Skyla, the idiosyncratic AI assistant guides guests into a brave new world of automatic check-ins and app-enabled key cards on their phone – the future of hospitality, according to Hotel Sky managing director Paul Kelley. Hi-tech machinations aren’t all that’s been grabbing Capetonians’ attention. Hotel Sky is situated in the former Metlife Centre, diagonally opposite the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Known for its striking stepped profile and the curved, floor-to-ceiling bay window on the facade, the 27-storey Modernist building was designed by the late architect Doug Roberts and used to hold the title of the city’s tallest skyscraper. Constructed from precast concrete panels, it still exudes the stately, austere beauty of its office-block days. Until you step inside.
With leopard print, palm trees, gold mosaic, gleaming marble, crystal chandeliers, velvet ropes and vertical gardens, it’s a little bit Las Vegas – and a lot of everything else. Conceptualised by Paul and his business partner Johan Franck, the irrepressibly OTT interior is designed to evoke a uniquely South African experience among its guests. “Often, when you walk into the foyer of a hotel in South Africa, you might as well be in Europe or America,” says Johan. “We live in a country known for its gold and diamonds, wildlife, colourful birds and flowers. This hotel is a celebration of all these elements.”
By keeping the footprint of the rooms small and transforming communal areas into experiential destinations, Paul and Johan are able to offer guests an upmarket hotel experience with conspicuously low room rates. Hotel Sky Cape Town has 535 rooms with an average floor space of 20 square metres – but it also has a swanky cocktail bar, a restaurant, a breakfast room, two sprawling pool decks, a gym, a shop, and a rooftop tower ride that takes you 30 metres into the air to appreciate a bird’s-eye view of the city, only to plummet you back down at what feels like supersonic speed.
The Metlife building is not the first office space that Paul and Johan have transformed into a hotel. In Cape Town alone, they converted a century-old warehouse at the V&A Waterfront and an old public-works building off Heerengracht in Pier Place into two Signature Lux Hotels. In all three instances, Jo Noero was brought on board as design architect to reconfigure the structures’ inner workings into liveable hospitality spaces.
“One of the nice things about working on a project like Hotel Sky is that the original building was designed by a good architect who knew his craft,” says Jo, who first saw the Metlife building during an architectural tour of the city he did as a student in the 1980s. “I’ve always argued that the way to make a building sustainable is to design it well, so that someone else can take it over in 50 years’ time and convert it to a completely new use.”
As for fitting in the rooms, Jo worked according to a structural grid based on a parking grid for three cars. “To make it work, we essentially had to get three bedrooms into three parking bays,” says Jo. To maximise every square centimetre, Jo worked with the narrow, rectangular configurations rather than against them. Standard-room guests, for example, enter their room via the bathroom, with a double vanity on the left and a shower and loo in separate compartments on the right, and then step through a lounge onto an elevated platform that houses the bed. “What’s nice about the rooms is that we have vast volume, because we stripped out all the existing ceilings and services to raise the height.”
While you could comfortably Netflix and chill for the duration of your stay, the appeal of the hotel is that there’s so much to explore within the confines of its walls. “It’s like a mini-city that you don’t have to leave,” says Jo. He’s right. Just ask Skyla and Ariel…