The Downtown Hotel near Zócalo plaza in Mexico City is a transformative presence in the capital. Designed by Mexican firm CheremSerrano Arquitectos, the boutique hotel is housed in a 17th-century landmark building on a UNESCO World Heritage site,and the firm’s principal architect, Abraham Cherem Cherem, along with his late cofounder Javier Serrano Orozco, enlivened its rich historical features with a few swift strokes of Mexican modernism.
CheremSerrano encouraged the hotel’s owners to push the boundaries of the boutique hotel concept by introducing a high-design hostel component, known as Downtown Beds. The combination is intentional—to attract everyone from seasoned jetsetters seeking out the next new thing, to budget-conscious backpackers. Because much of the original structure was preserved and the new interiors were crafted with local materials, eco-tourists are likely to find it a sustainable destination, too.
“As we explored the best program for the structure, we talked about uses for the ground level and decided to dedicate all of it to retail and restaurants,” Cherem explains. “And when we talked about how many rooms would work in the hotel portion, we got the idea that an upgraded hostel would make a nice little brother for the hotel.”
A historic colonial palace, reinvigorated
Located a few blocks from the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the historic center of Mexico City, where the Aztecs—and later the Spaniards—first settled, the hotel was developed within a former colonial palace known as the Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site before it was purchased by the Sacal family, renowned Mexican jewelers. To give the building new life, the family partnered with Grupo Habita, a hospitality firm known for
its well-designed hotels like the Hôtel Americano in New York and the Condesa DF in another Mexico City neighborhood.
After preserving the exterior and everything of historic value inside—including decorative ceramic floors, a stone-forged staircase in the lobby, and a mural by legendary Mexican muralist Manuel Rodríguez Lozano—the architects judiciously introduced contemporary architectural gestures as counterpoints to the historic elements. “You don’t often have the chance to intervene in a historically significant structure,” Cherem says. “It was important to respect the beautiful building and preserve what we could of the old, but we wanted to make a contrast with the new elements.”
The new layout divides the hacienda–style complex into two parts, allocating the first and second floors of the palace section of the building into 17 upscale hotel guestrooms and suites, and dedicating the former servants’ quarters to the 78-bed hostel. Separating hotel and hostel is an interior courtyard that is surrounded at ground level by designer clothing boutiques, pastry shops, and jewelry stores, all offering primarily local Mexican wares. In total, there are three outdoor courtyards, which have been animated with restaurants, casual bars, café seating, and even a ping-pong table and a “green wall,” or vertical garden, inspired by the work of the great Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. The newly reinforced roof supports a pool, lounge, and restaurant—amenities shared by all guests.
The architects called for the exposure and preservation of the brick and tile barrel-vault ceilings, light timberwork, and volcanic stone in the guest areas. Brick latticework is implemented to define the bunk beds and also serves as room dividers in guest rooms. A signature element that adds texture to the historic interiors, the latticework was crafted by local artisans and painted acid-green in the hostel and left
a natural bisque color in the hotel.
An authentic stay in Mexico
“I didn’t want visitors to feel like they were in a hotel in Japan or New York,” Cherem says. “I wanted them to feel the light and shadows that you find here in Mexico. And we wanted to be as eco-friendly as possible, too.” In keeping with this authentic flavor, the architects specified mostly Mexican materials and furnishings, including gray ceramic floor tiles, custom beds made of local pine, and sofas and chairs upholstered in fabrics handmade in Oaxaca.
Yet, the impetus behind the use of local products and craftsmen was as budget-conscious as it was eco-friendly. “We chose to take advantage of the opportunity to introduce local handicraft, which would have been expensive elsewhere, to bring high-quality design to the spaces,” says Cherem, whose team completed the entire project with a $2 million budget. “We knew we had to manage with a low budget,” he explains, “but that made us more creative.”
- Architect: CheremSerrano Arquitectos
- Client: Grupo Habita
- Where: Mexico City
- What: 37,400 total square feet on four floors
- Cost/sf: $50
Key Design Highlights
- Historic details of the colonial hacienda were exposed and restored within the hotel.
- Courtyards infused with amenities, including restaurants and bars, are shared by hotel and hostel guests.
- Hostel rooms feature brightly colored furnishings and finishes, while the hotel rooms are
- more subdued.
- Local craftsmen made most of the furnishings within all rooms.