Architecture: Building with Air

A hotel's great glory used to be its opulent indoor patio, a spacious central courtyard roofed over with glass and studded with palm trees and fountains that was the very symbol of la belle epoque. In the U.S., none rivaled the "Grand Central Court" of San Francisco's Palace Hotel, tiled in marble, lit by gas and roofed with crystal. But as modern cost-efficiency techniques have moved into hotelkeeping, much of the drama and elegance has moved out. Since space is the greatest architectural luxury of all, most new hotel lobbies are mean and cramped—areas designed primarily to handle arriving...

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