Designing Freedom at Hotel Liberty
Germany, Design –
The design team at KONRAD KNOBLAUCH incorporates the sensibilities of a historic prison with a lighthearted approach when transforming it into a modern hotel
What is it like to be a prisoner? What is it like to be locked up without freedom? Apart from the interior architecture and design elements of the renovation project of turning a prison into a hotel, the Konrad Knoblauch design team had to understand the psychology of it all. They had to turn negativity into positivity.
Their design concept – retreat, focus and the moment – turns being locked up into something positive. It means protection and retreat, from yourself and from the outside world. The moment, the here and now, is true wealth. You want to experience the building’s past without feeling anxious, you want to feel grateful for your own wellbeing.
Hotel Liberty in Offenburg nestles near the Black Forest in Germany. 38 rooms and suites are spread across two 19th-century buildings that are joined together by a contemporary glass box. The original structure made of red sandstone was built by German architect Heinrich Hübsch in the 1840s, and served as a prison for the city until 2009.
The extensive 3-year renovation project saw Knoblauch incorprate the building’s wide corridors, narrow cells, thick walls, oak floors, prison artefacts and austere red sandstone into modern interior spaces. Sideboards by Dutchbone and pieces by Fritz Hansen, HAY, and Arflex mingle with handmade furniture and accessories by local artisans.
Doom and gloom give way to luxury and a tongue-and-cheek, feel-good ambience for a wonderful experience at Hotel Liberty.
A Chat with Katja Scharnagel, project manager and creative management at Konrad Knoblauch
1 What is your main concept and theme to transform frightening old prison interiors into welcoming, comfortable ones for Hotel Liberty?
First we had to try to understand the world of a prisoner. We discovered something that is not always easy in everyday life: to see the positive side in everything. The three elements – retreat, focus and the moment – are positive needs of today’s society which became the concept of our design.
2 What is your colour and lighting scheme? And why did you choose this?
The most important thing was gaining atmosphere, so we used warm lighting only. The colours were defined by the original materials used and found in the building. For example, we planned the vaulted ceiling in the rooms to be white. However, during the building process, we decided to leave the ceiling raw with its exposed bricks – so we had to adjust the whole colour scheme for the rooms. We did not follow any trend or scheme, we followed the building.
3 Are there traditional German/Offenburg characteristics in the design elements?
The building itself and the use of sandstone are common features in the region of Offenburg. Most of the historic buildings in the city are made with this red sandstone and look the same. Apart from this, we did not include special characteristics in our interior design.
4 What was the most challenging part of the project?
We worked on the project for roughly 3 years. The most challenging part was working with the heritage of the building as a former prison. We wanted to approach its history respectfully and, at the same time, transfer it into a light-weighted atmosphere in which hotel guests feel comfortable. To create a pleasant prickle when confronted with the history and to reflect on their own positive situation.
5 Some rooms are partitioned to reflect the size of the original cells and give you a feel for the cramped conditions the former inmates lived in. What did you want to achieve with this effect?
We want to sensitise hotel guests to how precious space and freedom is. The old, narrow cells contrast with the large hotel rooms to unify the trepidations of the past with the luxury of today’s usage of space.
6 What would you like a future guest of Hotel Liberty to look out for especially in the design?
We do not want guests to look out for any single design feature but to enjoy the overall atmosphere. There is only one holistic design concept, no single detail stands for itself. However, the guests may discover a few surprises such as blue mirrors inside the cabinets, lighting that looks like a ladder, pictures inside the old cell doors and so on.
Story by Carol Kraal. Photographs courtesy of Konrad Knoblauch and DesignHotels