We are going to try to resist commenting on Hotel Unique's name, as it should be obvious enough from the photos that it is an appropriate one. The design is inescapable — the structure is by Niemeyer protegé Ruy Ohtake (himself one of Brazil's most famous architects) and takes the form of a half-disc, flat at the top, like a penny perched on its edge, with the top half sawn off. The result is not just a striking silhouette, but an ingenious way to skirt the 85-meter maximum height restriction, while concentrating its guest rooms toward the top for ideal city views — in fact there are only 4 rooms on the narrow second floor, and 30 on the top floor.
Alternately, the hotel resembles a cartoon boat — the face is weathered copper, with circular porthole windows, and the curved underbelly that would be the ship's bow and stern are paneled in wood. Ribbon-thin sheets of concrete anchor the fore and aft to the ground (and guard against the seeming possibility of the whole thing rolling over). The rooftop lounge is floored in wood, like the deck of an old ship, and the water is up here as well in the form of a deep crimson swimming pool (which, we admit, seems a bit more decorative than functional).
It was a matter of much controversy that Ohtake was not allowed to design the interiors, but designer João Armentano's gain is ours as well — his restrained spaces aim to balance Ohtake's flair for the dramatic, and the result is unexpectedly harmonious and relaxed.
Still, this is a self-consciously hip boutique hotel, and the decor is highly modern, anything but conservative. Reception, rather than the typical imposing monolith, is just a couple of chairs around a small table with a bottle of chilled champagne. The guest rooms may not be as overstated as the structure, but they have their own daring flourishes. Rooms at the edges curve with the outer wall's arc, and furnishings extend mischievously into the upper corners. The bathrooms are a bit avant-garde, with sliding dividers separating (or not separating) them from the bedrooms transparent bathtubs — just make sure you are traveling with someone you know well, or would not mind getting to know better.
A tip for travelers: São Paulo is a large city, and probably South America's most sophisticated. But the weak currency and the over-saturated hotel market are good news for foreigners. If this hotel were in New York, Miami, or just about anywhere in Europe, it would be booked months in advance. Unique, by contrast, always seems to have a room, and for quite a bit less than you might be prepared to pay.
Hotel Unique is approximately a 15 minute drive from Congonhas/São Paulo Airport.
Avenida Brigadeiro Luis, Sao Paulo