Besides the glamorous hotels and restaurants, Balazs has also developed residential buildings in New York with architects Jean Nouvel, Richard Gluckman and Calvin Tsao.
However, he carefully avoids giving big names free reign on his projects, preferring instead to invite a range of external collaborators to work with his in-house team.
“One of the reasons we have such a big in-house design team is that we don’t like to go to architects who have a signature style,” he said in a telephone interview with Dezeen from his New York office. “Because then you get their signature style. So frequently we go to younger people who haven’t yet developed a signature style.”
Balazs hired Nouvel to design 40 Mercer, a New York apartment building, in 2002, before the French architect achieved superstardom by winning the Pritzker Prize. But Nouvel wasn’t allowed to do the interiors. “I got Antonio Citterio to do the interiors, because I thought Jean was going to be too tough and hard,” Balazs said.
Born in Boston in 1957, Balazs heads André Balazs Properties, which owns and operates the Standard hotel chain. It has five properties across the USA and a new outpost under construction in London, in the Brutalist former Camden Town Hall building on Euston Road.
The building contrasts starkly with Chiltern Firehouse, currently London’s most celebrity-saturated hangout, which occupies an opulent Neo-Gothic former fire station in Marylebone.
In fact, none of Balazs’ properties bears any resemblance to any other, a result of his approach of treating each new project like a movie script.
“I see my role and my company’s role as kind of like an old-school Hollywood studio,” he said. “We kind of put together who’s the best writer, director, who are the actors we can bring in, who’s the best production designer, the best composer and we’ll assemble a team. We have people designing uniforms, people designing various aspects of it.”
“It’s very collaborative, it’s a large team effort. You cannot look at any of these places and say this designer did it. They all had very significant contributions.”
Balazs is an admirer of mid-century French architect and engineer Jean Prouvé. He owns Prouvé’s Maison Tropical, a two-storey steel and aluminium prefab originally erected in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo in the 1950s.
Earlier this summer this led to Balazs being invited to guest curate Design at Large, an exhibition of mobile, modular architecture held at the Design Miami collectors’ fair in Basel. The exhibition included Shigeru Ban’s cardboard tea house, Atelier van Lieshout’s cave-like fibreglass Original Dwelling and Ikea’s refugee shelter, as well as a petrol station designed by Prouvé.
“Given the loose outline of the show – which was prefabrication, modularity, sustainability, a lot of buzz words – and given the highly articulated restaurants and clubs that we’ve done, that was probably why I was asked to curate it,” Balazs said.
“It probably has a lot to with the fact that Jean Prouvé is such a seminal figure in the show. [Prouvé] had originally explored many of these things in his work. [He developed] an architectural and manufacturing methodology and protocol meant to solve very practical needs such as erecting a school quickly or creating affordable housing in a tropical climate.”
“Not only was he a genius in terms of aesthetic design but he was also dealing with a lot of these issues. Some unsuccessfully, but he was dealing with them.”
Below is an edited transcript from our interview with André Balazs:
Marcus Fairs: How did you get involved in the Design at Large exhibition at Design Miami?
André Balazs: The Design Miami people, [Design Miami director] Rodman Primack in particular, asked me to do it. It probably has a lot to with the fact that Jean Prouvé is such a seminal figure in the show.
Several years ago I bought at auction what I consider to be one of his most interesting houses – the Maison Tropical – which I then showed at Tate Modern about six years ago.
So given the loose outline of the show – which was prefabrication, modularity, sustainability, a lot of buzz words – and given the highly articulated restaurants and clubs that we’ve done, that was probably why I was asked to curate it.
In my mind I wanted to frame the intellectual concept of the show just to answer the simple question: why this show, why now? I had to keep coming back to Prouvé. He had originally explored many of these things in his work – I mean modularity, sustainability, and things like that.