A futuristic "art" hotel in Poznan replaces room keys with iPhones

I AM standing in the middle of a dark hallway, pressing an application on an iPhone that is not mine. While I wait it’s saying something in Polish, which I hope is “opening door.” Cha-ching: a bleeping noise and the sound of a lock decoupling. I push into my room.

This is not your average luxury hotel. I’m in Poznan, Poland, visiting a brand new state-of-the-art boutique hotel called Blow Up Hall. I’m not here because I want to see Poznan, but because this is he world’s first “electronic art hotel”. Part of an innovative art project called 50-50, it prides itself on being brazenly futuristic. Indeed, the future seems bright if the keys are anything to go by – the beauty of having an iPhone as your key is that you also have an iphone at your disposal throughout your stay: hello free, portable internet, maps, texts, local calls and – at the going rate – international calls.

The “electronic art component” of this ultra tech-proud hotel is a video installation by award-winning Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, located by the lifts in a room that serves as a kind of antechamber to reception. Swarming with 2,400 tiny images, you can see yourself reflected in the pixels if you look hard enough. To top off the effect of technology-induced unease, mirrors have been placed nearby “to create a sense of illusion and disorientation.” That’s if the pitch black walls, black and evilly sharp chairs, and black and white and chequered floors in the room don’t do the trick first.

Up on my floor, the hallways are also black and I’m grateful for the light my iPhone screen shines. I push the door open to find myself in an all-white room devoid of colour but for three green apples on a white plate. The bathroom is black, and divided from the room with a glass door (the toilet, mercifully, is separate). There’s a state-of-the-art TV and sound system, iPod dock and all manner of dimmer lights – and this is the most basic type of room on offer (deluxe boutique). Bigger rooms have a shower capable of giving massages as well as swimming-pool sized baths.

Part of the futuristic otherworldliness of Blow Up Hall stems from its location. Odd enough that all this trumped-up glamour (the manager used to be at the celeb-stuffed Hempel Hotel in London) is in Poznan, a mid-sized industrial town a four-hour drive from the German border. But it seems to have literally landed from another planet: from my smooth leather window seat, through my grand, freshly constructed French windows, I can see nothing more picturesque than a desolate car park and an unloved, graffiti-decorated office building.

The hotel forms part of a massive brick building, a former brewery. The rest is a combination of Poland’s most successful shopping centre and an art complex that includes the country’s only dedicated dance centre. The arts complex, shopping mall and hotel are privately funded by Forbes Rich List entrant Grazyna Kulczyk, whose goal is to bring art into all aspects of life. In this case, that other aspect is the super-luxury hotel. Ms Kulczyk, a chic and sultry blonde, has spent €650,000 on Project 50-50.

I don’t tarry long in my all-white room, in good part because some of the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted and a very good dinner await. The bar is free of any uplifting light or old-school cheer: it’s black and purple and not the kind of place you’d want to be stuck in on your own after dark. The chairs are big, hard and composed of squares and triangles. This, evidently, is how the designers conceive of futurism, which – while quite possibly accurate – is also a little depressing.

But the cocktails are sublime even if they aren’t particularly trendy in the way New Yorkers and Londoners might see it. The watermelon martini (hello old school) was ambrosial: fresh watermelons crushed before our eyes, a passion fruit’s core scooped out and thrown in, vanilla powdered sugar and vodka. I downed three before I realised how dangerous they were.

Dinner was in the Hempel-esque restaurant, all white minimalism with futuristic art and sculpture. It’s Polish food with a European twist, and was quite delightful: a generous platter of duck carpaccio with parmesan and a plum soup with ice cream were highlights.

Blow Up Hall is odd – and interesting – enough to bring wealthy punters to Poznan. It does luxury as only newly wealthy countries can: all out, brash statements of style through gadgets and over-wrought contemporary design. It’s refreshing and freaky at the same time. And you might want to pack a flashlight – or download the flashlight application on your iPhone – for those dark, disorientating hallways. Rooms from €219; book at


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