Madrid may be the more conservative of Spain’s big cities, but there’s plenty of modern design, made all the more striking by the contrast with the city’s prevailing classic architecture, much of it dating to the 18th century and earlier. In the center of Habsburg Madrid, near the Puerta del Sol, stands the Hotel Urban, a stunning modern structure surrounded by centuries-old buildings, its metal and glass construction standing out against the neighboring stonework. Contemporary design isn’t the whole story, though. The Urban may have the slightly edgy, industrial feel of the most stylish new boutiques, but it adds to this formula a generous helping of individuality. Owner Jordi Clos is not just a successful hotelier but a noted art collector as well, and the head of an archaeological society whose collection the Urban was designed to display. A basement gallery houses a permanent collection of ancient Egyptian artworks, and the guest rooms are furnished with antique Hindu and Chinese pieces, complete with explanatory notes in the manner of a museum program. The result is a engaging: while many “design hotels” resemble nothing so much as art galleries, with their blank white walls and minimalistic furnishings, the art is conspicuously absent. The Urban, in contrast, is a rich and welcoming space, and the art-museum trappings don’t even begin to introduce a note of sterility or emptiness.
The interior design in the public spaces is highly individual as well, with a particular emphasis on unusual lighting effects: a glowing alabaster column that descends the height of the atrium to the lobby floor, like a stream of molten rock being poured, and a reception desk made of the same luminescent material. Elsewhere six-foot fluorescent tubes line the walls, and globes dangle behind bar countertops, lit from within, again replicating the effect of white-hot stone or metal.
Upstairs, there’s more to the guest rooms than ancient Hindu sculptures. Dark mahogany floors and black leather furnishings set a serious tone, and the amenities are up-to-the-minute, including flat-screen televisions and wireless internet access. Street-side windows are double-glazed to muffle the sounds of traffic, and the courtyard-side rooms are as quiet as Egyptian tombs.
Today’s high-design hotels feature bathrooms that are as clever as the bedrooms, if not more so. These are behind glass walls, with fixtures as futuristic as any we’ve seen, from the conic wash basins to the deep stand-alone tubs. Heavy towels and robes are de rigueur for a hotel of the Urban’s stature, as are custom-packaged bath products.
Located between the Puerta del Sol and the museum district, the Urban isn’t short for competition in the restaurant and nightspot stakes; that it’s such a success is remarkable indeed. The Europa Decó and the Glass Bar are among Madrid’s hottest spots, but the real gem is the rooftop terrace. By day it’s a pool deck, where guests lounge in the sun with a view of the city, and by night it’s an open-air bar, with cocktail tables perched at the building’s edge, six stories above the street.
Carrera de San Jeronimo 34, Madrid