Encore for an Icon

Design drama, energy, intimacy and flexible function space are the driving concepts behind the $60-million renovation underway at the 1970s-era Hyatt Regency O'Hare, a John Portman-designed atrium hotel that dominates the Rosemont, IL lodging scape.

Liz Neiswander, AIA, principal of TVS, and lead designer on the project, emphasizes the importance of “respecting the dynamic elements of his (Portman's) original design, but not being afraid to make progressive changes both functionally and aesthetically.”

Adds Larry Traxler, Hyatt vp of design and architecture: “This hotel is built like a rock. To touch one area you affect the entire building, so we decided to attack it as a whole and create a master plan. It's a very fast-paced, aggressive schedule, given the scope of the project.”

One solution to the traffic flow challenges in the grand atrium is being addressed by moving registration from the first floor/convention area level to the second or atrium level, which will help breathe more life into the atrium space and bring clarity to the functional organization of the hotel. “With this simple adjustment, the guest will move from their arrival through registration to their room in a seamless pattern and never cross paths with convention guest activities,” says Neiswander. “Meanwhile, convention activities are free to take over the first floor, flowing independently from ballroom to meeting breakout spaces.”

The registration desk has been moved from a location behind the elevator core at the entry level to a prominent spot in the atrium. A 95-foot-long curved wall made of backlit onyx and a floating plane of Padouk hardwood serve as a backdrop for the registration kiosks.

Among the planned amenities is a new lobby-level restaurant with an open-air exhibition kitchen as its centerpiece and a separate lobby-level bar. The designers see this as bringing energy and interest to the atrium, making it the heart of the hotel. Tactile and stylish materials such as glass, natural stone, wood finishes, onyx and floral accents will be employed throughout the space.

“We're aggressively pursuing F&B in and around the perimeter of the atrium,” says Traxler. “We're trying to create a stellar three-meal restaurant that can morph from very casual breakfast type environment to a more upscale dining experience. People today expect much more from a restaurant and we're going to try and live up to that — moving the kitchen from the back of the house and creating some flame and sizzle by putting the equipment and chefs up front so people see the activity and know the food is fresh. We're spending a lot of money and effort on the bar, too, which will also help bring some energy back into the space.” Subdividing areas and changing up light levels and adding a vibrant sound system will also amp up the energy level in the lounge area.

The atrium restaurant presented some unique challenges for Johnson Studio, the specialty restaurant designer. “They have to create a three-meal restaurant that feels just as good for breakfast as it does for fine dining,” relates Neiswander. “They also have to find a way to make the restaurant feel intimate in its location within the atrium.” They will accomplish this by creating elements that serve as shelters within the space. Leather and wood banquets that envelop the guest are planned. Light “tree” sculptures create a canopy over dining tables and provide decorative lighting for dinner. Onyx, glass, dark woods and leathers will complete the effect.

Pre-renovation, the hotel featured the traditional Portman palette: ceramic tile floors at the atrium, limited accents of wood and lots of exposed concrete. In the new design, natural stones and a variety of woods have been added as well as signature glass elements in high-profile locations. “The goal is to introduce color and contrast and to provide variety and interest for the guest,” relates Neiswander. “Also, it's important that any new materials complement existing elements.”

Editor's note: In this four-part series, we follow the large-scale renovation of an iconic 1970s hotel, the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. We examine the journey from conception and design plans through construction and installation. We'll talk to the hotel's managers and the designers about the many choices and challenges that arise during the process. This month: The plan

THE BIG IDEAS

The Project: Hyatt Regency O'Hare, Rosemont, IL

Owner: Hyatt Hotels Corp.

Scheduled Completion Date: spring 2007

Projected Cost: $60 million

Architect and Interior Designer: TVS, Atlanta, GA

General Contractor: Power Construction, Chicago

Guestrooms/Suites: 1,000 guestrooms and 42 suites

Meeting Space: 110,000 square feet of meeting space

Amenities: Hotel is connected by skywalk to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center; automated Guest Service kiosks for easy check-in/out; complimentary full health club with locker rooms and saunas

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