The Art of Not Just Sleeping

Over here I asked, “If art is meant to imitate life, where does life happen?” I listed a bunch of places where art intersects with everyday life and have another place to add to the list . .


In Geist, one of my favourite literary magazines, there’s often an advertisement on the last page for The Listel Hotel, referred to as “Vancouver’s most art-full hotel.” I wondered what this was all about so I did a bit of googling. Taken from their website,

A hotel is not just a place to sleep or eat. The good ones offer sanctuary and a welcome respite. The hotels you never forget offer something unique to see, do or learn; they reflect what Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place”. The Listel Hotel is such a place.

not your typical hotel lobby art

Usually, when we hear the words “hotel” and “art” uttered in the same sentence, we do the sort of cringe that we do when we hear the words “airport” and “food” or “hospital” and “food.” In other words, hotel art doesn’t have the best reputation. Typical hotel art is, well, typical hotel art. Safe and stale images of pastoral landscapes, a bird perched at a window, or a bowl of fruit on an brown kitchen table.

Andrew McCredie in this Vancouver Sun article calls this type of art the cookie-cutter approach of “inexpensive large-scale paintings . . . [that] give guests no idea where they are in the world apart from being in a chain hotel.”

Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s lobby with three Alan Wood abstracts

It appears that some Vancouver hotels are changing this stereotype, transforming their lobbies into art galleries so that hotels aren’t just places for tourists to pop into and sleep, but places where locals and passersby also enter to view original, inspiring works of art.

The Fairmont Pacific Rim and Rosewood Hotel Georgia are two such hotels. The Fairmont features art not just inside but outside on its walls through the favourite one-line poem of Liam Gillick. The building itself blurs the line between architecture and art.

I will leave you to contemplate this rather odd hotel-related sculpture sitting outside the Queen Victoria Hotel and Suites in Victoria.

I’ve walked by this piece numerous times and never actually saw anyone ever sit on the “benches,” and can’t say I really blame them. Concrete mattresses don’t look too inviting


A one-line poem that repeats for 17 stories by British artist Liam Gillick wraps around the south and east sides of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver. The poem reads: “Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than if I were lying on the street.”

In my About section, I talk about being interested in “architexture” — a conflation of architecture + text. I primarily associate text with books because they are made up of written words, but thanks to postmodernism, “text” can refer to any surface capable of being read, like a painting, a body, a film, a photograph, a dance, a theatrical performance, you name it. I want to give more visual context to the inspiration behind “architexture,” which I wish I could say I invented (and thought I did) until I read an academic article by D.M.R. Bentley in which he also uses the word. Oh the world of academia, frustrating hopes of originality — much like the Internet.

The Fairmont Hotel above and the two buildings below are examples of architexture that triggered my use of the term in my Master’s essay. In other words, my inspiration to discuss the relationship between architecture and literature grew out of walking the city and noticing what was around me, which I’ll flesh out more in future posts.

Bruce Eriksen Place. Photo by Derek Lepper

Woodward's indoor atrium

The above two spaces were designed by architect Gregory Henriquez. I love the way he describes his practice: “Architecture is the poetic expression of social justice.” Many of his projects concern social housing such as Bruce Eriksen Place and the new Woodward’s site, which both display this poetic expression. Click on the photo of Bruce Eriksen Place for a better view of the literary balconies that pay homage to the building’s namesake and the community he loved and fought for – the Downtown Eastside. This is also the location of the Woodward’s redevelopment that features a mixed community of users and uses with social and market housing units, civic offices, retail space, an atrium and public plaza, a daycare, and even SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts.

What strikes me every time I see architexture or literary buildings is their hybridity. We often live such compartmentalized lives — from our different social groups to our living, working, and socializing spaces — that it still surprises me when I see, or rather, read literature on a building. From studying English literature, I’m used to reading it in books. I appreciate when architects take literature out of this traditional context and put it onto a new, arguably more visual text – that of urban spaces we encounter on a daily basis.

Architects aren’t the only ones playing with literary texts. Check out this literary lampstand featured in the Château Laurier in Ottawa:

Architexture surrounds us, speaking through urban spaces (or even furniture in a hotel) not typically given a literary voice. What examples of architexture catch your eye in the city you live in?