Albo Liberis and Studio Munge collaborate to design a hotel that celebrates the skills and values of its surrounding community.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn is in the midst of an evolution, with gentrification increasingly seeping into the fabric of the neighbourhood. A multi-ethnic area, this part of north Brooklyn remained relatively untouched until the 1990s, when low rent and its proximity to Manhattan attracted an influx of artists.
With the negative implications of gentrification to contemplate, developers of The William Vale have created a hotel that considers the skills and values of the community in which it sits. The building, masterminded by Brooklyn-based Albo Liberis, straddles an entire block, yet ensures that public access is paramount via a porous base comprising a plaza, retail outlets and park. The surrounding 15,000ft2 of public space comprises an elevated promenade for use by the community, as well as one of the hotel’s F&B offerings. Popular with locals, Mister Dips is a seasonal dining experience that serves a selection of griddle burgers, fries and dips from the window of a retrofitted 1974 Airstream trailer.
“I think that as designers and architects, we have a responsibility to create history, not duplicate it."
“This property is very brave and bold for Brooklyn,” comments Alessandro Munge, Principal of Studio Munge, of the building’s distinctive design. “It adds to the fabric of the city in a positive way, rather than a contrived way,” he continues, referencing thearea’s current trend of newbuilds replicating old warehouses, with exposed brick and industrial interiors. “I think that as designers and architects, we have a responsibility to create history, not duplicate it. Based on that – and looking at this great piece of architecture – we wanted to create an interior that would be a modern statement for the neighbourhood.”
In his approach, Munge conducted extensive research into the area, exploring the art, culture, artisans, local beer brewers and their ongoing struggles with large scale corporations and developers. “We started to dig deep and found that craftspeople were being pushed out by the big, badass developers,” he explains. “We decided to give them a piece of the building itself, celebrating their craft and thus enabling us to align ourselves with the people of Brooklyn.”
The most demonstrable artform is the lobby installation, Manahatta, by Marela Zacarias. Zacarias was commissioned via an open competition calling for local artists to express what the neighbourhood means to them. The 3D piece exudes colour and attitude, catching the eye in the otherwise neutral lobby palette. Interiors are gallery-like, with clean, welcoming tones leading to the installation focal point. “The lobby feels modern, with marble floors and expressive light fixtures, which were all crafted by local artists,” illustrates Munge. “We created a space that is cool and calm, allowing people to come in and be sociable, as well as seeing the real art of the area.”
With the aid of an art consultant, each floor features an eclectic collection of artwork, offering further insight into the locale. The corridors have clean lines, with doorways and room numbers recessed. Munge explains: “You have this beautiful perspective every time you walk along a corridor. Then, as you turn to enter a room, you are welcomed with a piece of art.” The result is a feeling of personal attention and privacy, as though the entrance has been designed specifically for you.
Guestrooms are relatively small starting at 240ft2, yet many feature expansive balconies that enhance the living space. The developers allowed a significant amount of the property to be used for terraces, with panoramic views allowing a visual connection with Manhattan. “The balcony feels like a part of the interiors,” says Munge of outdoor space that is serene, yet within touching distance of Manhattan’s energy. “In the morning, the beautiful sunshine fills the room. Then, evening comes and the whole mood changes. It’s all down to the effect of the natural light, which produces a warm, amber glow by day and illuminates the building at night, highlighting the balconies.”
The interiors are minimalist, with paint taking preference over wallpaper and neutral fabrics accompanying hardwood flooring. Artwork adorns the walls and loose lay rugs add a sense of homeliness. Details come to the fore in the bathroom, which features a light and airy design, maximising space with smart storage solutions, light tones and the use of mirrors. Speaking of the bathroom’s penny tile mosaic floor, Munge states: “It brings such a nice sensation to the feet; we wanted to play with the senses.”
"We took the spirit of Southern Italy and adorned the walls with storytelling wood panels"
Offering panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline is Westlight, the hotel’s rooftop bar and eatery operated by chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group. The menu of small plates take inspiration from global street food while design places emphasis on the views, with a touch of industrialism from exposed ceilings, and eclectic furnishings in yellow and grey. Westlight also plays host to many of The William Vale’s events. The hotel’s programming aims to engage local established and emerging talent, offering up the hotel’s spaces as a canvas for creative expression and new visions.
On the ground floor, Leuca is a neighbourhood restaurant specialising in Southern Italian cuisine, also from NoHo Hospitality Group. “We took the spirit of Southern Italy and adorned the walls with storytelling wood panels, using colours that represent Italian architecture,” Munge explains. “The narrative is based on a fictional couple that came to America from Italy. They treasured memories with their family – cooking and learning from older generations – and wanted to bring this to America through by adorning the walls with frescos.”
The restaurant is divided into three spaces: the café bar, private dining room, and main dining room complete with open kitchen. “This is an experience in itself,” Munge continues. “The kitchen has a warm glow that flows into the main dining room, acting as the heart of the restaurant.” The final food offering comes from Vale Pool & Terrace, a poolside venue where a menu of light snacks and cocktails is accompanied by regular live music performances. According to Munge, The William Vale is a considered solution for a changing part of New York. He concludes: “It’s about thinking about what’s right for the neighbourhood, and what’s right for Williamsburg as the community continues to evolve and grow.”
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