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Space, the final frontier for architect of imagination

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Within 15 years we could be enjoying holidays in space, believes Howard J Wolff, vice-president and director of strategic planning at international leisure architect Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, and he wants his practice to design the first hotel. It is already working on designs, using salvaged fuel tanks as the basis of accommodation units.

'Space is much nearer than you think,' says Wolff; it starts only 100km up. Pundits believe that the first commercial trips involving about two minutes of weightlessness will be available by 2001, and Wolff is confident that hotels are not much further down the line. Within 15-20 years many costs should have fallen to one hundredth of what they are today.

Although he envisages the outer ring of his hotel rotating to simulate a low gravitational pull - 'to allow certain basic functions to be performed' - the central areas will be of zero gravity, posing fundamental questions for architecture. 'In space the floor is the ceiling. You have to think three-dimensionally.'

This is the only one of Wolff's futuristic projects for which he has no client. He is working with a consortium on a proposed underwater hotel, linked to land by a boardwalk. The first is off the coast of Hawaii, where watg has its office, but there are also proposals for Italy and Mexico.

As far as terrestrial hotels are concerned, 'the prime spots are already taken,' he says, which is why he is investigating alternatives. Another live project is with Westin Hotels for 'America World City' a cruise ship two and a half times the length of any built so far, with most passengers accommodated in three multi-storey hotel towers above the deck.

Other proposals include an airship hotel and a floating hotel which could be towed to cities wanting to stage major events but lacking accommodation. 'Almost every city that has housed the Olympics has over-built hotels,' Wolff explains.

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