"The horror! The horror!" When Joseph Conrad carved those words into his novella Heart of Darkness, he wasn't anticipating today's mania for pop-up installations of everything. Yet that may be some people's first reaction upon hearing that London has stuck a temporary, boat-shaped hotel on the rooftop of a Thames River arts complex in homage to the English novelist.
Surprisingly, the one-bedroom "Room for London
" transcends the gimmickry implicit in building a clever temporary structure with a hip design theme. The steamboat-shaped structure with a wind turbine mast "floats" on the rooftop edge of the Southbank Centre arts complex, an arrow-shot from the giant rotating London Eye. The work is the winning design of artist Fiona Banner
and architect David Kohn
, who trumped 500 other submissions in a public contest to design a tiny pop-up living space that was run by Living Architecture
, a group that wants Britons to feel warmer and fuzzier about cutting edge environments.
The boat is named the Roi des Belges (King of the Belgians), after a real-life steamer that departed from London and that Conrad captained through the Congo on a trip that would inspire his most famous story. For £120, or about $185, a couple may stay for one night only, long enough to take in the dusky late-summer cityscape above Queen Elizabeth Hall and contemplate the apocalypse now.
Inside, the cozy paddle steamboat is lined with timber, vintage books, and props that echo details from Conrad's works, such as maps of Africa. The interior is divided between a kitchenette, a bedroom, and an upstairs octagonal study with wraparound windows. Wooden ladders and hatches serve functional purposes, and the ample windows provide glorious sunrise and sunset views - when it's not raining in London, of course.
The project is part of the Cultural Olympiad
, a set of non-sporting events in the run-up to the Summer Olympics
. Cynics say these events are a sop to the millions of Londoners who weren't able to score tickets to the Games. The cynics will feel even more vindicated when they learn that bookings for this hotel are expected to sell out within the first half hour of going on sale Thursday, January 19, at 7 am Eastern time via the Living Architecture website
The hipster 1% will triumph, though, scoring reservations to the most exclusive lodgings in town until December 2012, when the project closes.