The unique design of the hotel is largely a merit of the area of Shoreditch. Historically, Shoreditch, like all areas of east London, was associated with the lower classes. In the mid 17th century, Shoreditch was home to brothels located in perfect proximity to the City gentleman’s entertainment, and it was also home to London’s very first theatres, The Theatre and The Curtain. The small shops and workshops of Hackney harbor the remains of the lost decades til this day, something that the Ace tries to incorporate into its design. Nowadays increasingly, developing tech and multimedia industries choose Shoreditch workshops and warehouses as their offices, adding an interesting chapter to the area.
The first Ace Hotel outside of the USA is in Shoreditch, designed by a company located just down the road, Universal Design Studio. When sitting in the Ace lobby, visitors feel connected to the surrounding area. The founder of the Ace Hotel chain, Alexander Calderwood, wanted to create a space that could be used by both the community and the hotel guests together, so he dedicated a large amount of the interior space to public use. The hotel has a flower shop, a restaurant, a long working area in the lobby, a record shop and a night club/lounge. Another aim of the hotelier was to create a comfortable space that mixes people of different social spheres and professions. Knowing that the communal spirit of the hotel is the result of a conscious effort by staff and founders, definitely contributes to its charm.
The interior is a mixture of vintage aesthetics and modernism, not merely a stylistic choice but also a reference to the past. The Universal Design Studio team discovered that a theatre once stood on site, known as The Shoreditch Empire (once graced by Charlie Chaplin). The lighting on the ceiling of the lobby is theatrical, a homage to its past. The theatre was then replaced by a cinema in 1935 and subsequently replaced by the Crowne Plaza hotel.
The foundation of the Crowne Plaza remain – a lot of the construction material is left bare, with cement walls and brick incorporated into the design in a Le Corbusier manner, referencing the industrial aspects of East London. The warm light and the use of natural material in the artwork hanging and standing in the lobby balance the raw materials of the space. Engaging with the place and its past in a historically aware design, contributes to making the local community feel comfortable in the hotel.
The direct incorporation of local industry in the design contributed to its successful interpretation of the area. Edwardian Shoreditch was a place well known for the manufacturing of furniture with every step of production from design to wood polish located in the area. The Ace lobby contains furniture, collages and tapestry work from local artists and manufacturers. The huge metal windows, for example, pay homage to the local metalwork tradition; the metal frame is not only in the windows and doors, but also in the partitions that separate the lobby from the café, the flower shop and the bar. The creation of the hotel included numerous commissions from local artists, furthering its attraction for members of the creative industries.
The renewed appreciation of craftsmanship and local, artisanal industry is currently an important cultural aspect of Shoreditch. This is not, however, the only explanation for why the area has become so popular – it is also the expanding middle class of London seeking living space and entertainment in the area. Many locals were pushed north of Shoreditch due to the redevelopment of the area, something that began in the 1970s, when Shoreditch started to be populated by a native middle class which was missing there for over a century. The Ace’s charm is derived from its prioritisation of the local industry and its emphasis on communal spirit – something well reflected in its interior.