Have You Driven Past This New Hotel?
Architect Marcel Breuer's New Haven landmark is reimagined as a sustainable hotel.
If you’ve ever driven north on Interstate 95 through New Haven’s Long Wharf district, you’ve no doubt noticed the large concrete building looming high above the highway. Designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer in 1968, the Brutalist-style monolith was the former headquarters of the Armstrong Rubber Company and Pirelli Tire. Lying vacant for two decades, the structure has been rejuvenated as the sustainably designed Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Architect, developer and owner Bruce Redman Becker of Westport- based Becker + Becker revitalized this historic landmark, creating a sustainable lodging and dining destination. We asked him about the process of taking on this monumental project.
How long did this project take?
We purchased the building in December of 2019, but we spent over a year studying the feasibility of the project before the acquisition. It had sat empty for over two decades. The lower two floors had been completely gutted when a two-story research wing was demolished in 2003. The upper floors had water damage and environmental issues which had to be addressed prior to commencing construction. The hotel opened in the spring of 2022.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
It was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity to modernize a historic building and to deliver a hotel that incorporates sustainability every step of the way, while still paying homage to its rich history and heritage. Because the building is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, we had to go through rigorous review from the National Park Service and State Historic Preservation office.
What drew you to Breuer’s Brutalist architecture?
I studied architecture at Yale and learned to love how brutalism reveals the inherent beauty of materials like concrete and its expressive use of shadow and texture. Growing up in a modern house in New Canaan—the town in which Marcel Breuer and the other “Harvard Five” built homes—I have always appreciated the clean lines and simple elegance of modern architecture.
How were you able to preserve the legacy of Marcel Breuer’s original design?
Becker + Becker, along with interiors firm Dutch East Design, retained all significant design elements of the original building’s pre-cast concrete architecture, including its distinctive sculptural facade, board-formed concrete stairwells, elevator surrounds and granite tile lobby. We repurposed building materials throughout, such as light fixtures and carefully restored wood-paneled walls that were once used in the Armstrong executive offices and conference rooms. To maintain the midcentury aesthetic, new interiors focus on functionality, clean lines and geometric forms.
What are some of the sustainability features of this hotel?
We made a choice early on not to use any fossil fuels. We are an all-electric hotel. We’re also expected to be the first net-zero and Passive House-certified hotel in the country and will be one of fewer than a dozen LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-certified hotels.
Hotel Marcel New Haven utilizes renewable solar power sources on site to generate the electricity needed for its common areas, restaurant, laundry, meeting rooms and the 165 guest rooms. A power-over-ethernet lighting system reduces lighting energy use by more than 30 percent.
As a recycled building, Hotel Marcel has a greatly reduced embodied carbon impact compared to a newly constructed hotel. With the climate crisis and continued use of fossil fuels posing an existential threat to humanity, I felt an obligation to develop a hotel that can serve as a model for environmental sustainability.
Becker + Becker has taken on many urban properties, but this was a first, how so?
All of our projects are unique and Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is our first hotel project. This allowed us to look at each hotel design and development decision with a fresh perspective. My commitment to sustainability and integrated practice as architect and developer enabled us to create a new model for sustainable hospitality. The hotel offers a destination for guests who have a passion for modern design and sustainability.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: A Brutalist Icon.