Hotel Liberty: Breaking Into Prison

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A building with a dark history gains a new purpose via sleek, contemporary design.

In what was once used as a prison following the French Revolution in the late 1800s is now a remarkable example of how to use architecture to blend a torrent past with an optimistic future. Meet the prison converted into hotel: Hotel Liberty in the German city of Offenburg — an eclectic ensemble of new architectural ideas set against a backdrop of history and time. The interiors of the old prison hotel’s massive renovation were handled by Knoblauch design studio, who wanted to offer guests a comfortable stay with a unique view into the past.

The existing prison structure was left largely untouched, with aging, discolored brick walls and rusted metal accoutrements being the most prevalent visual features. The designers did well to add strategic and understated contemporary interjections without taking focus away from the powerful imagery evoked by the surviving prison walls.

The doors to the rooms – or cells as they once were – were made larger as the existing ones were much too small by today’s lodging standards. However, the designers left the original cell doors intact, reminding guests that while comfort exists in this place today, it was once something much different.

The prison converted into hotel now boasts 38 rooms and suites, a 3000 book library, a gallery and lounge, and even a four star restaurant helmed by Michelin star award-winning chef, Jeremy Biasiol. ‘Swanky’ is certainly a word that comes to mind. This violent infusion of modernity poses a stark juxtaposition to not only the physical state of the prison, but the emotional baggage that hangs heavy in the musky German air.

There is discomfort in this particular flavor of luxury – a point emphasized by the designer’s intent to accurately paint a picture of the hotel’s storied past. The architecture of the old prison hotel is never at odds with that story, and only acts to enhance what is already there by framing it with new materials, expressions, and functional amenities.

The Liberty Hotel is part museum, part lodging, and part historical reference, all brought together in a cohesive package by acute attention to detail and careful preservation. The design intervention sheds positive light on a place wrought with demons, and aptly creates smiles where there once were tears.


Peter is an architect, designer, writer and adventurer from Seattle who wanders the globe in search of natural and man-made beauty. His website is the chronicle of his journey and his platform for celebrating the simple, meaningful things in his life.

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