Oscar-Winning Art Director on Creating the Grand Budapest Hotel

Learn how a production team transformed a vacant warehouse in Germany into the fictional hotel.
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Ralph Fiennes (far right) comforts Tilda Swinton (in red hat) on the set of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie won four Oscars last night, including one for Best Achievement in Production Design.


Art director Adam Stockhausen recently brought home his first Academy Award, for best production design on Wes Anderson's latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The movie is set in Zubrowka—an imaginary European country—at the onset of a world war, and Stockhausen used assorted locations in Europe and elaborate set designs to create Anderson's fictional world. (Related: "You Can't Really Stay at the Real Grand Budapest Hotel [But We Can Tell You Everything About It].")

This wasn't the first time Stockhausen had worked with Anderson. The two had collaborated previously on The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. But when we interviewed Stockhausen last March after the movie's release, he called the film one of the biggest, most difficult challenges they'd ever faced.

Unwrap the exterior of the Grand Budapest Hotel for me. What was your inspiration for designing the hotel?

Most of the inspiration we had for the hotel came from our site visit to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. But we also put tons of research into the setting before we visited Europe. We looked at archive photos from many different hotels, including several hotels in London, Scotland, Switzerland—all over the place. Personally, I think the design was most influenced by the Grandhotel Pupp, which sits on a hill overlooking the town of Karlovy Vary.

What was it about Karlovy Vary that your team found most intriguing?

The town of Karlovy Vary is filled with pastel-colored buildings that line the riverfront, and it has several hotels that stand on hills that look over the town. The whole place had the right feeling we wanted to convey in the movie.

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The official movie poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel depicts the exterior of the imaginary hotel, which was actually a miniature set designed by art director Adam Stockhausen.


You spent a lot of time filming in Görlitz, Germany. What was it like to film there?

Görlitz is an incredibly well-maintained and restored [town]. We found ourselves working in buildings that have lived through the 14th, 15th century and are all still there today. They have a remarkably well-preserved town center, and it reminded us of Karlovy Vary. Görlitz became our center after we found the department store.

Tell me about working in the Görlitz Warenhaus department store.

We rented out a vacant building in Görlitz that we called "the department store." It became our home base. We had our production offices on the top floor of the building, and the whole interior of the warehouse became the interior lobby of the [Grand Budapest] Hotel.

How did you come up with the design for the hotel lobby?

We did tons of research on various European buildings to pull together the lobby. Part of it was us being responsive to the architecture that was already there—the warehouse was built in 1912 and had lots of steel—and then adding important details for other hotels that we wanted to incorporate.

For example, we used similar tile floors from the Grandhotel Pupp, but also details we had seen from archive photos from many different hotels—some of which no longer exist today. Another big reference point we used is a municipal building in Prague known as Obecni dum, which is filled with the most incredible glass and fabric work you could ever imagine.

Do you always perform so much research on your set designs?

Yes, research helps me find period details that really stand out. I did a similar amount of research on both 12 Years a Slave and Moonrise Kingdom, although I was researching completely different settings. (Related: "A Historian's Perspective on '12 Years a Slave.'")

What were some of the challenges you faced with designing the sets for The Grand Budapest Hotel?

We had a massive undertaking in transitioning the hotel from the 1920s style to the later 1960s. It was a daunting assignment, similar to what we did with the Bishops' house in Moonrise Kingdom, but that was a little house and the Grand Budapest Hotel lobby was a huge set.

Watch how the production team transformed a vacant warehouse in Görlitz into the Grand Budapest Hotel lobby.

VIDEO COURTESY: FOX SEARCHLIGHT

One of the sets that really stood out was Mendl's pastry shop. Where was that filmed?

The front of the store where Mendl pulled up the roller shade and exhibited the pastry case is a location in Dresden known as Pfunds Creamery. It's a shop where they make products related to the milk industry, like cheese and cream products. It was filled with hand-painted tile and was overwhelmingly beautiful. (Learn how to make Mendl's courtesan au chocolat.)

What other interesting locations did you find?

The Zwinger Museum in Dresden is where Deputy Kovacs [played by Jeff Goldblum] is trying to get away and pulls up to a building in a trolley and goes into a museum. It becomes a set after the first couple of shots, but it was a remarkable location.

Also the prison, known as Checkpoint 19 in the film, is Zwickau Prison in Germany. It was used as a political prison [after World War II] that went out of use after [German] reunification. It's officially decommissioned and is now awaiting museum status.

Did you have a favorite set?

There were lots of really fun sets on this one. My favorite is actually from a ten-second shot of one of the train stations. It's when Bill Murray's character drops Zero and Moustafa off at the train station and a train car pulls in from the other direction. It looks like a simple shot, but the station was not in use so it was complicated to put it all together. The train is made of cardboard and is being pushed by a few guys, with smoke coming up from the top.

What made your work on this film different from previous films?

It was exciting for the team to live and work together in the area surrounding Saxony. We were filming in Germany and the Czech Republic, but we were also going over to Poland and finding ideas from there. The [fictional country of Zubrowka] was really based on that part of the world. After going through an experience like that, I'll always have a vivid memory of my time there every time I watch the film.

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