Wondrous Wilmina: Once a prison, now a boutique hotel

May 16, 2023
Glowing lightscapes dapple within the Berlin hotel, an adaptive reuse by Grüntuch Ernst Architekten.

In West Berlin, the historic Charlottenburg women’s prison at Kantstraße 79 has been transformed by Berlin firm Grüntuch Ernst Architekten into the boutique hotel Wilmina. The adaptive reuse connected the circa-1896 prison with an adjoining courthouse and reconfigured interior spaces and former cells.

The elegant 44-room destination and restaurant is now a lively urban hot spot for locals and travelers. Last year, it received the Hotel Property Award from the hospitality trade group 196+ Forum, which cited the design’s attention to detail as removing the stigma of the project’s previous use. “It has become an oasis in the heart of the city,” says architect Almut Grüntuch-Ernst.

Glowing arrays of glass orbs—Bocci’s 14 series—suspend via cable at varying densities and lengths to provide visual unity throughout public areas. For the 6-inch diameter fixtures, the architects specified 10W xenon lamps, 2800K, with CRI 100. (Bocci’s 14 series is also available with 1.5W LED lamps.)

The main hotel entrance, originally a window opening, was enlarged into a door connecting the garden courtyard with the lobby, a warm, double-height room with arched windows and a cascade of Bocci's 14 series. The architects made the open atrium the heart of the building. “The former cell wing extends over five levels: four existing floors and a new penthouse floor on top,” Grüntuch-Ernst describes. “Doorways line up along narrow galleries with wrought-iron balustrades.” Soaring lightwells introduce daylight on a striking washed-brick wall.

Guest rooms range in size from a compact 118 square feet to the spacious, 807-square-foot Garden Loft, formerly the assembly room. “No room is exactly alike,” Grüntuch-Ernst says, “but all have light colors, soft textures, and generous natural light.”

Sited in the former prison yard, the Lovis restaurant has panoramic windows that look out to lush gardens. Here, Bocci’s 57 series with their organic glass volumes, 1.5W LED, strewn overhead in organized chaos, while Grau’s iconic Salt & Pepper 5W LED luminaires cast a warm glow on patrons' faces from tabletops.

Click below to learn in detail the lighting design of two other hospitality projects:


This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Architectural SSL.

About the Author

Vilma Barr

Vilma Barr is a contributing editor to U.S. and international professional journals and trade periodicals published in the U.S. and internationally in the fields of lighting and the built environment. She has served as author, co-author, and editor of design and business books.

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