The Downtown Mexico hotel used to be a colonial palace – today it’s a renovation marvel that bridges the 17th century with the present.
This hotel in Mexico City straddles two worlds, its modern contours supported and enhanced by 17th century ruggedness. Throughout the façade and the interiors there is a delectable play of brick and polished wood, exposed concrete and sleek upholstery, allowing guests to flit about two starkly different sensibilities of style and form.
Located at the Centro Historico Borough of Mexico City, Downtown Mexico is both a hotel and a hostel, the two structures divided by an inner courtyard. Its grandeur is understated, but still palpable, and its modern re-dressing has worked with great respect to its lineage. Colour, texture and layout aim to emphasise efficient elegance in this re-birth of the Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle, while at the same time letting the pre-existing structures share the spotlight.
Bright colours against a coarse background of exposed bricks make for aesthetic magic, and the architectural team of Cherem Arqs have applied this in brilliant sweeps across the hotel. Working on the renovation of a UNESCO World Heritage site asks for deft balancing of material, and this becomes trickier when expected to re-imagine the place in a context four centuries apart.
In the process, it was decided that the hotel’s time travelling demeanour will be represented by its walls of red volcanic rock, its many windows, its furniture of rich colour but simple design, and its vaulted brick ceilings. These elements combine to make the hotel the statement of elegance that it is.
The team purportedly worked to bring in a “bohemian-chic” identity to the colonial palace of yore. The bright orange door is a start, with its iron detailing jutting out, retaining that old Mexican feel. The façade is speckled with more orange in the form of window awnings. The windows here actually establish the split in sensibilities quite well, as the upper ones are more intricately framed and mullioned, while the lower ones have a more café casual look to them.
The grand spaces inside are suffused with natural light and ventilation, with at least some sides of the walls being open for a constant feel of connectivity with the outside. Retro light fixtures set up a constant string of contrast with the brick ceilings.
No colonial palace is complete without a breath-taking staircase, leading up to heavenly displays of opulence. This one doesn’t make an exception either. Two stone-forge stairwells come together to lead up to the superb patio. Standing in the space between the staircases is a statue, and hovering over the ascent, and guaranteed to inspire awe, is a wall-length painting. The unassuming beige shades here further emphasise the understated ethic here; even the railing detail, the wide arching windows and the light timber work are mostly complementary in shade and contour.
But the furniture is a different story. Designed by Paul Roco, the pieces are guiltlessly bold. Set against the exposed brick and the grey-and-white handmade cement tile floors, they are like beacons of the modern age peeping out of historic windows. The patio especially, with the red and orange upholstery around, and creeping vinery hugging the railings, is a zone fit for pure relaxation.
The roof-side section basks in the reflected glory of the hotel’s famed neighbourhood. Here the cushions are of a relatively tamer, green hue, blending in with the plants, but accented by the almost-orange wood detailing.
The pool side, on the other hand, sports bright yellow stool-tops, lounge chairs, and umbrellas, infusing a bit of tropical pizzazz to the settings. The view from here is dominated though by the sky, whether looking over the relaxing guests, or while being mirrored in the pool.
The hotel houses 17 rooms and suites spread across two floors and 2,256 square meters, the hostel occupies 1,218 square meters. They are spaces beautiful in their sparseness, again dominated by a spread of grey, brick and wooden tone. In this restraint, the white of the linen, and the black of the couches, offer a simple contradiction. The windows, large and multi-levelled, open up to the arresting sights outside, negating the need for any wall hangings.
Downtown Mexico was completed in July 2012 to be a part of the Grupo Habita and Design Hotels. The El Zócalo Square where it stands has been home to the Aztecs and the Spaniards, and thus boasts of an architectural history of fine pedigree.
The hotel aimed to add to this legacy and not undermine it with a blinding modern structure. By believing in a balance of the past and the present, the team from Cherem Arqs has indeed succeeded, in style.