Shop Talk with Dutch East Design Vol. 10



For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, RBW and Dieter Cartwright, Founding Partner of the Brooklyn-based firm Dutch East Design, discuss the transformation of a Marcel Breuer-designed office building into an inviting, contemporary hotel.

As a rectangular behemoth made of glass and concrete, the newly opened Hotel Marcel in New Haven, Connecticut, is a prime example of the much-loved but also much-maligned Brutalist style. Completed in 1970, it was originally the headquarters of the Armstrong Rubber Co before switching hands to Italian tire company Pirelli in 1988, then falling abandoned in 1999. When architect and developer Becker + Becker began the historic rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the building in 2020, they tasked Dutch East Design with bringing warmth into Breuer’s austere, Brutalist interiors while preserving his architectural legacy. Below, Dutch East Design's Dieter Cartwright reflects on their approach, as well as another major achievement: making Marcel the country’s first Passive House- and Net Zero- certified hotel.

An Architectural Gem

For anyone who might not be familiar with Marcel Breuer, can you describe his vision as a modernist and how that was visible in the existing interiors?

To say Marcel Breuer’s influence over furniture design and architecture is significant is an understatement! The Pirelli Building is an example of Breuer’s modular prefabricated approach to architecture, a system which can be observed in his buildings all around the world in the Brutalist style. Brutalism is known for its honesty and reverence for materials, especially concrete. One exciting example of where prefab and in-situ cast concrete come together are the historic stairs, where the precast steps are contained within the board-form concrete stairwell. But mostly the building is known for its striking presence, from the outside.

It’s exciting to be part of a pioneering project, so we wanted to partner with other companies who embrace a spirit of innovation.

Cutting-Edge Sustainability

The building is set to be the country’s first Passive House and Net Zero certified hotel. Can you walk us through its Power Over Ethernet system, and how it contributes to the Hotel Marcel’s sustainability goals?

To achieve Net Zero operationally, you need to minimize power consumption while maximizing power generation. One strategy implemented to reduce power consumption was to use only Power Over Ethernet (PoE) lighting throughout the property. It is very common now for all bulbs in new construction to be LED, but PoE goes one step further by cutting out the line voltage AC network (110 V) altogether. Instead, in Hotel Marcel, lights, motorized window treatments, and guest room refrigerators are all connected to a 24 V power network by ethernet cable. Overall energy use is anticipated to be reduced by more than 30%, as a result of this system. This is not just a boon for energy consumption, but the flexibility in design provided by working with ethernet cable is tremendous, especially when it comes to integrating lighting with furniture and millwork.

The profiles of the RBW lights used in Hotel Marcel were a perfect fit for our design of its interiors. We specify RBW products for their clean lines and compatibility with a great range of our projects, and the fact that RBW was already manufacturing fixtures to work with PoE made it so much easier to specify, but not only from a convenience point of view - it’s exciting to be part of a pioneering project, so we wanted to partner with other companies who embrace a spirit of innovation.

See PoE at work in the graphic below.

The Softer Side of Concrete

Given the historic relevance of this building, did you face specific challenges and constraints during the renovation? What role did they play in shaping the project?

We’ve worked on a number of historic adaptive reuse projects, and it is typically required that any new intervention does not engage in mimicry. Hotel Marcel was the exception, in that we were required to reinstate the original and long-gone acoustic tile ceiling in all of the guest-facing areas. We also had to find a way to re-use the original 1’ x 4’ ceiling lights. Our challenge was to find a way to do this without invoking the feeling of an office building, which the original building in fact was.

Using the housing of the original 1’ x 4’ lights, we created a very different effect by installing a custom prismatic lens, reminiscent of the building faceted facade, using new power over ethernet lamping, of course. Another significant constraint to work within was the 5’ building module. Because guest room demising walls could intersect a window opening, guest rooms had to be laid out to be either 10’ wide or 15’ wide. Both of these constraints created creative design solutions which ended up being very powerful guiding principles of the project’s interior design.

What was the look and feel you hoped to achieve, as far as materials and palettes?

In 2018, Business Insider declared in an article that the building was rated as the state's ugliest, according to the residents of Connecticut. We are huge fans of Brutalism, and were thrilled to be awarded the interior design and branding for this building’s next chapter, Hotel Marcel, but understood that not everyone sees this style of architecture with the same fondness. So our goal was to reintroduce the public to the site and this kind of architecture by taking a very human, warm approach. By following some of the same principles, including honesty of materials, we worked to create a soft, inviting interior to the concrete exoskeleton. We’ve used natural wood, handmade tile, and an overall palette that is sympathetic to a human experience.

Dieter Cartwright

Partner at Dutch East Design

Dieter Cartwright is a partner of Dutch East Design, a Brooklyn-based award-winning branding and interior design studio specializing in hospitality. He focuses on exploring the contextual insights of a project, and uses social dynamics as a driving factor in how he approaches design. Prior to co-founding Dutch East Design, Dieter helmed the interior design and branding agency Warren Red, worked at PTW Architects, Sydney, on highrise and large-scale public buildings for the arts, and at Mark Zeff, New York, on a variety of residential and hospitality projects. 



More Stories



2023 B Corp Month

Every March, the global community of Certified B Corporations comes together to celebrate our commitment to using business as a force for good. B Corp Month is a time to recognize the growing movement of businesses that prioritize social and environmental impact alongside profit, and celebrate the positive impact we are making in our communities and around the world.

Shop Talk


Shop Talk with Lauren Wesley Spear Vol. 9

For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where RBW’s friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, architectural designer Lauren Wesley Spear discusses her role as Director of Space at Lifestance Health, one of the nation's largest outpatient mental healthcare providers.

Shop Talk


Shop Talk with Neil Logan Vol. 8

For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where RBW’s friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, founding partner Charles Brill and New York architect Neil Logan discuss the transformation of a former IBM office in Kingston, New York, into the newly opened, 100,000-square-foot RBW Factory.