How the Radio Hotel in Washington Heights Snapped Together

The 23-story development looks like a stack of Legos — and the colors are deliberately unmistakable

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Have you noticed a building on the approach to the George Washington Bridge that resembles a brightly colored stack of Legos?

The unusual new property at the corner of West 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue is known as the “Radio Hotel.” Designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV and local hotel design firm Stonehill Taylor, the 23-story development in East Harlem includes 221 hotel rooms, 165,000 square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of food and beverage retail, and 170 parking spots. 

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The building, one of the few hotels in Washington Heights, is meant to catch the attention of drivers on the adjacent Harlem Rive Drive and the Washington Bridge, or on the approach to the GWB. 

“The whole idea was that we were creating a placemaking project,” said Bryan Woo of Youngwoo Associates, the project’s developer. “You want people to identify what you are pretty quickly. We hired a Dutch architect, MVRDV, and when we talked to [co-founder Winy Maas] about this site, this was his first project in Manhattan. He wanted to be where most starchitects are, downtown or Midtown. And we told him, ‘You’ll be able to stand out here in a way that you can’t in Midtown.’ ”

Woo said the original idea behind the exterior was to “take all the facades in the area and stack them on top of each other.”

The interiors are just as distinct. The hotel rooms are themed around different primary colors to match the facade, with the bathrooms tiled and painted in bright primary shades. One suite of rooms has royal blue bathrooms, with matching tile, ceilings, floors, shelves and even the bathroom’s exterior wall; another group of rooms has bright red bathrooms, and a third is bright yellow. The hotel rooms are outfitted in midcentury-inspired, light wood furniture that tends toward the modular, particularly in smaller, pod-sized rooms. 

The smallest guest rooms have a built-in bed next to the window with pull-out storage underneath and a TV installed in a nook at the foot of the bed. Many of the smaller suites also have flip-down wall-mounted desks, which sometimes do double duty as bedside tables. A few budget-focused rooms even have bunk beds. Others are larger, with one or two full- or queen-size beds and full-size desks. 

Besides the rooms, the property has a 10,000-square-foot event space on the 12th floor, a top-floor roof deck with sweeping views of Manhattan and the Bronx, and an 8,000-square-foot courtyard on the first floor that will offer extra seating for the restaurant and outdoor space for events.

The development is called “Radio Hotel” because Antonio Espaillat, who co-owns the hotel’s restaurant, Jalao, controls more than 60 radio stations in the Dominican Republic. The lobby will even include a podcast booth that will generally remain open but can be closed for live recordings with guests.

Woo said he hoped to appeal to people who host events in upper Manhattan, the Bronx and even New Jersey. He said he’d already booked reservations and received inquiries from people who needed a place to stay, even though the hotel does not officially open until July 25. Youngwoo also hopes to host events for the local Orthodox community and nearby Yeshiva University. The hotel is set up to be Shabbos-friendly and convenient for observant Jewish groups, with rooms that can be accessed via a central stair, manual locks on the rooms, and floor layouts that allow different genders to stay in blocks of rooms separated via an exterior corridor. Room rates are going to be in the $200s per night, said Woo.

The office portion of the building is separate, but it’s connected to the hotel via the courtyard and 12th-floor event space. Asking rent for the offices — which are being marketed to nonprofits, educational tenants, local small businesses and government agencies — is $65 a square foot. 

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.