Poland's Blow Up Hall 5050: Half luxury hotel, half digital art installation
I'm here in Poznan, Poland – a town I'll admit I never knew existed until I bought my plane ticket. Which is a bit pathetic of me, since "Poznan" more or less translates as "the town everyone knows." Whoops, I guess I missed that memo. It's a typically charming European town with a gorgeous city square, a 1,000-year plus history full of horrific wars and destruction, a Catholic bent and a surprising number of sex shops per city block.
I'm here to visit Blow Up Hall 5050, one of the most unique hotels in Europe, attached to one of the "best shopping malls in the world" and a pet project of Grażyna Kulczyk, the richest woman in Poland.
Until 2006, Kulczyk was also married to the richest man in Poland, but while her ex-husband's business ventures are quite dry – oil, gas, coal power, mining and beer brewing – Grażyna sees herself much more as a passionate patron of the arts.
She calls her signature approach to business the 5050 model: everything should be 50 percent art, 50 percent business, each side supporting the other. In this spirit, she bought up the crumbling carcass of a gigantic old brewery in 2003 and began development on a mammoth 120,000 square-metre complex that houses two high-class shopping malls, a free art gallery where Kulczyk shows her personal collection of modern art, and the Blow Up Hall hotel.
The amazing brickwork and architecture of the old brewery were painstakingly preserved and worked into the ultra-modern design of the Stary Browar center and Kulczyk has dotted hundreds of artworks, big and small, throughout the complex to give it her unique 50/50 twist. It also doubles as a giant exhibition and event space, with frequent fashion shows and workshops filling out a very full annual calendar.
And so to the hotel. Right next to the buzzing retail hive of the shopping malls, Blow Up Hall 5050 has been created as an oasis of calm and high-end luxury for Poland's elite: rock stars and tycoons, presidents, cultural icons and of course, Gizmag contributors.
Walking in the front door, you're immediately struck by the grand entrance hall, complete with its four levels of brickwork and artworks ranging from the giant "Red Dwarf" at the back of the hall, through a number of artworks including a Spencer Tunick, to the spinning light installation above you.
There's no check-in desk, just a concierge who confirms your booking and hands you your room key – an iPhone 5. It's yours for the duration of your stay, it comes pre-fitted with a Polish sim card and you can use it throughout the city.
From there you step into the lobby - and into the key Blow Up Hall artwork itself, designed by digital artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and inspired by Blowup, a British art film of the 1960s. Most of the room is in dark shadow, barring a starkly lit path up the center leading to a series of large screens in which your own image is digitized and split up into a dizzying pixellated array.
If you want to read more, follow this link. (It's worth it!)