WORDS Annette Klinger PHOTOS Paris Brummer
A rooftop pool suspended 25 metres above ground is but one of many striking elements of the recently completed VīB Boutique Hotel in Cape Town.
Hotels are tricky things to design; trickier still to design beautifully.” It’s one of the first things Robert Silke of Robert Silke & Partners says when talking about his latest creation. “When you build a hotel, you’re essentially making it out of Lego blocks – and those blocks are rectangular rooms.” In the case of Vīb, a brand extension of the international hotel group Best Western aimed at young, urban travellers, Robert lucked out. The parameters were set, but because Vīb was still a relatively new brand, there was a bit of give. It also didn’t hurt that Robert’s clients Muslim and Shafina Jaffer,a property-development power couple from Tanzania, had a sense of adventure – not to mention a flair for the dramatic.
For Vīb, which also has hotels in Bangkok, Antalya, and Springfield in Missouri, the hardwired design DNA includes a rectilinear format, a white façade and a signature red “scarf ” emblazoned with the hotel’s logo. Each six-by-three- metre room accommodates a full-size bathroom, king-sized bed and study area – always in the same configuration. In the hands of Robert and fellow architect Alex Geh, this template was continuously finessed over the five years it took to bring the hotel to completion. Rigid seams softened into curves, unimaginative fixtures were injected with a sense of playfulness, and the one-size-fits-all ethos became undeniably localised. “There’s an exuberant Durban-Miami-Honolulu kind of tropical modernism about it,” says Robert. “Think Bauhaus meets Tropical Heat.”
The most obvious expression of the hotel’s vibe is the glass rooftop pool, which cantilevers five metres over Somerset Road below. If passersby were to time it right and look up, they might see the dangling legs of hotel guests through its three glass portholes. “The client wanted the hotel pool to be visible for miles around, and we just amped it up,” says Robert. As dusk descends, the pool turns pink and then blood-red, casting a fiery glow through the half-moon of glass that Robert fondly calls the building’s smile.
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Inside, a more feverish New Orleans-slash-East African interpretation of modernism awaits. The lobby’s reception desk is framed by a jagged, geometric mirrorscape reflecting a refreshingly uncluttered white space that’s accented by graphic black lines and pops of high-gloss red. Guests are shuttled upstairs in an undeniably sexy, red-lit lift that reads like something straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Equally Kubrick-esque – although leaning more towards The Shining – are the moody, narrow hallways that lead guests to their rooms.
While the original brief was for an 84-room hotel, Vīb Cape Town houses only 76. The answer to the missing- room mystery lies on the top floor where, right towards the end of the build, Shafina – an artist herself – decided that the hotel needed an African art gallery. Oh, and there was one more specification: the walls couldn’t touch the floor. The execution is nothing short of spectacular. Walls were built in front of the existing windows, curving voluptuously downwards from a bulkhead in the ceiling, which allowed them to stop short half a metre above ground. “When the sun comes through those hidden windows, it creates this indirect, ethereal light, even in the deepest parts of the gallery,” says Robert. “I mean, it’s a dream. Every architect wants to do a cathedral and a museum, so it’s a tick off the bucket list. Again, how many clients are going to commission a bespoke, purpose-built art gallery?”
Lucky for some, hey Robert…
Looking for more local hotels? Take a look at the Gorgeous George in Cape Town.