From New York to Amsterdam: A Tale of Two Hotels

Amsterdam's Citizen M, Beethovenstraat
Amsterdam’s Citizen M, Beethovenstraat

A couple weeks ago I was in New York City to give a talk and Masterclass at Eyebeam on my work with open source cultural models. After NYC I was off to Amsterdam for a week to work with the Premsela Foundation for Dutch Design and Fashion, so I thought back-to-back sessions in two great cities would allow me to run a bit of a “pod hotel” comparison between the two.

The Pod Hotel, New York
The Pod Hotel, New York

In NYC I chose the, yes, Pod Hotel on East 51st Street near 3rd. Every room is extremely clean with a pleasing minimal design, and you can basically create your own room experience at the macro level when you book – single, double, king, bunk beds, with private bathroom or shared bath, and so on, with the variables you choose being reflected in the price. There are some nice touches such as free wifi throughout the hotel (not as standard in all hotels as it should be), a decent mini stereo with an external port for you to plug in your iPod to get your own tunes filling the room, but the thing that really stood out for me with the Pod Hotel was the social site you are invited to join once you make a reservation. Once you book your room, you receive an email with login details to enter an area of their website where you will find headings of “drink with me”, “shop with me”, “eat with me” with listings and email addresses of people who are going to be in NYC the same time as you and would like to get together with other travellers to experience the city together.

Artist's Rendering of Life in Citizen M
Artist’s Rendering of Life in Citizen M

Amsterdam’s Pod offering is Citizen M on Beethovenstraat, near the city’s World Trade Centre financial district. It is actually the second Citizen M to hit Amsterdam, after their premiere at Schiphol Airport. Citizen M is an entirely different breed of a pod hotel experience. While its critics may comment on it being insanely over-designed and over-concepted, which is true, there is an entertainment value to these same things which I sometimes enjoy.

Citizen M is a design hotel on steroids. As the press release states:

Here, past the touch-screen check-in and check-out terminals, exclusive partner and renowned design firm Vitra provides even more environments and new furniture. There’s the legendary Marshmallow sofa by George Nelson, the brand-new Vegetal chairs by the famed Bouroullec brothers … above its extra-long bar with many plug-in points and white Eames bar stools are 14 Asian-inspired lantern lamps from Vitra’s Home Collection … There’s even a special corner for kids, featuring colourful child-size Panton chairs, the fabulous Porcupine Desk by Hella Jongerius and cute plywood elephants by Ray and Charles Eames.

The Philips Mood Pad (image copyright Philips)
The Philips Mood Pad (image copyright Philips)

Within the design festival disguised as a hotel, the thing that really stood out for me was that each of the 215 rooms was entirely an customisable environment, controlled entirely by a universal remote created by Philips call the Mood Pad. The Mood Pad is the secret to creating an “Ambient Experience” for the guests. As Philips says:

There are two main elements to the system. Firstly, the Ambient Experience combines a host of various ambient products, including dynamic LED lighting, VoiP phone, free wifi and FlatTV which contribute to a guest’s overall experience of the hotel room. Secondly, Philips has also created a unique back-end network design solution, which enables all different software platforms to work together seamlessly. This means that individual hotel rooms, and all functionality within the rooms, are linked to a central server that manages everything from room temperature and curtain settings, to the welcome message guests receive upon arrival in their room.

Now, it was indeed pretty damn impressive to be presented with a palette of “themes” for your room’s ambience. By pressing the TV theme, the lights dim, the TV comes on, curtains close… the Romance theme brings up chilled lounge music, lights go down…

Citizen M in full Ambient Experience Mode
Citizen M in full Ambient Experience Mode (image copyright Citizen M)

So for all the wonders of Citizen M and its fully customisable Ambient Experience, here’s what bothers me: there was no true personal customisation to the aesthetic. Why not go one step further and put some digital photo frames in the room and put some Bluetooth access onto the remote so I can upload some photos that mean something to me or remind me of the people who are waiting for me at home while I’m staying there? There’s an impressive sound system hidden in the walls of the room, and a dedicated wifi network, so how about letting me stream one of my playlists to make my listening experience, well, MY listening experience? It was interesting that while Citizen M was a veritable feast of design and user experience in the rooms, the longer you spent in the rooms, the more these things became apparent, and the colder the experience became – figuratively and literally. There were times when I thought back to the simple joys of opening at window in NYC’s Pod Hotel and plugging in my iPod that made me overlook the Vitra-o-rama in Citizen M.