One block south of the busy Sixteenth Street Mall in downtown Denver, rehearsals are underway. From a small work van, a single occupant is raised to the sky in an inflatable hotel room with hydraulic buoyancy, allowing for an unimpeded view of the city from an all-white, luxurious bubble complete with shower, air conditioning, a sofa that turns itself into an airbed, and well-stocked magazine rack. The same view, that is, one might have if a “real” hotel went up on this parking lot.
This chance to “rehearse” urban development–and specifically high-rise hotel development in a dense area–is a central theme of this “performance architecture” installation built almost entirely by the hands of artist Alexander Schweder and his assistant Meredith Argenzio. One of four ar(t)chitecture installations under the rubric of “Draft Urbanism,” this engaging work is part of the second Biennial of the Americas, with Carson Chan as Executive Curator. Experimental at its most literal, “The Hotel Rehearsal” theoretically gives planners as well as potential hotel guests the opportunity to “perform the space before it exists,” as Argenzio described the concept. Temporary and mobile, it fits Chan’s intention of exhibiting real architectural work (not mock-ups) in an impermanent, people-friendly way, giving residents and visitors an opportunity–and a responsibility–to question their urban surroundings.
Contrasting the suburban and horizontal parking lot with the urban and vertical high-rise, “The Hotel Rehearsal” is an interactive example of Schweder’s push-pull art works. The piece is especially poignant in its current iteration, neighbored by massive, nondescript chain hotels at least fifteen stories high, many of which replaced parking lots. With the room “fully extended,” one can see both the mountains to the west and the expanse of Colorado plains, the natural intersection of horizontal and vertical that underscores the man-made contrast explored in “The Hotel Rehearsal.” The state is also committed to historic preservation, and its fraught history of pulling down historic buildings to build parking lots is echoed here in reverse, with urban “open space” and accessibility at risk in the face of incessant upward development.
The art shows and installations will be up from Wednesday, July 17 until September 2.