An Architect Breaks Down the Design Details of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Ander­son­’s The Grand Budapest Hotel fea­tures many notable play­ers: Willem Dafoe, Til­da Swin­ton, F. Mur­ray Abra­ham, and pre­sid­ing above all, Ralph Fiennes as cel­e­brat­ed concierge Mon­sieur Gus­tave H. But it is Gus­tave’s domain, the tit­u­lar alpine health resort, that fig­ures most promi­nent­ly in the film, tran­scend­ing place, time, and polit­i­cal regime. Such an estab­lish­ment could only exist with­in Ander­son­’s cin­e­mat­ic imag­i­na­tion, which dic­tates the man­ner in which he intro­duces it to his view­ers. “It’s obvi­ous­ly a mod­el,” says archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er in the video above. “It’s fake” — an adjec­tive that, when applied to a Wes Ander­son pro­duc­tion, can only be a com­pli­ment.

Wyet­zn­er sure­ly means it that way, giv­en how much inter­est he shows through the video in the details of the Grand Budapest Hotel as con­struct­ed and revealed, one set at a time, by Ander­son and his col­lab­o­ra­tors. Envi­sioned as a kind of “French chateau grow­ing out of the moun­tain,” the build­ing incor­po­rates a mansard roof, a “rus­ti­cat­ed base” with the look of an ancient aque­duct, and Art Nou­veau canopies of the kind still seen at the entrances of the Paris Métro.

Wyet­zn­er explains the over­all image as “one of those sana­to­ri­ums you would see in the moun­tains of Europe up until the nine­teen-thir­ties” but designed by the Seces­sion­ists, who intend­ed to “uni­fy archi­tec­ture, paint­ing, and the dec­o­ra­tive arts.”

The atri­um, the cir­cu­lar recep­tion desk, the elab­o­rate­ly mul­lioned win­dows, the palette of pinks and reds: these fea­tures under­score the tit­u­lar grandeur of the tit­u­lar hotel. (They also, like the sym­me­try of so much of its con­struc­tion, remind us whose movie we’re watch­ing.) But before long, every­thing changes: the hotel finds itself in the Sovi­et nine­teen-six­ties, topped with anten­nae, paint burnt orange and avo­ca­do green, out­fit­ted with plas­tic lam­i­nate and illu­mi­nat­ed ceil­ings. “Sovi­et archi­tec­ture has this rep­u­ta­tion for being very drab, and very sad, almost,” says Wyet­zn­er, and the “updat­ed” Grand Budapest Hotel reflects this. But the Sovi­ets were also “one of the orig­i­na­tors of mod­ernism,” a move­ment whose stern opti­mism comes through in the film’s set designs — as, faint­ly but per­sis­tent­ly, does the fin de siè­cle ele­gance of the ever-more-dis­tant past.

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Relat­ed con­tent:

What’s the Big Deal About Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel? Matt Zoller Seitz’s Video Essay Explains

Acci­den­tal Wes Ander­son: Every Place in the World with a Wes Ander­son Aes­thet­ic Gets Doc­u­ment­ed by Red­dit

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Watch 50+ Doc­u­men­taries on Famous Archi­tects & Build­ings: Bauhaus, Le Cor­busier, Hadid & Many More

Why Do Wes Ander­son Movies Look Like That?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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