The Second Life of the Watergate, D.C.’s Most Notorious Hotel

The infamous Watergate Hotel is back on its feet after a multi-million dollar renovation, and it’s not ashamed of the past.

When asked to redesign the world’s most notorious hotel, it might scare the hell out of you, but you don’t pass on it for fear of screwing it up. “Watergate—it’s a word from history!” says Israeli-born industrial designer and architect Ron Arad. “We had to do it.” And while the Watergate will never escape its past as the place where Nixon’s presidency started to unravel, it is as much an architectural icon as a political one.

The layout of the famed complex—built in 1965 on plans from Italian modernist master Luigi Moretti—hasn’t changed much over five decades, despite the fact that its ownership has been in near-constant flux. The Watergate’s latest guardian, Euro Capital Properties, bought the hotel in 2010, and has poured $125 million into renovating the lobby, bar, restaurant, and 336 guest rooms (Arad’s firm did all but the latter). That has meant bringing in new materials like polished stainless steel and copper, patinated brass, and mountains of Italian marble to complement Moretti’s existing vernacular. (“It’s still Moretti’s building,” Arad says, “and it’s an honor to collaborate with him, even if it’s one-sided.”).

The biggest challenge? Working around the iconic curvilinear architecture—including the huge support pillars in the lobby. “We couldn’t pretend the fat columns weren’t there, so we celebrated them by resurfacing them with reflective materials. When you look at them, you see a bit of the outside world,” says Asa Bruno, director of Ron Arad Architects. But for all the high-concept interiors and controversial history at play, there’s still a bit of humor here, with the addition of not one but two presidential suites—just in case.

From: Condé Nast Traveler

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