First of all, it's an opulent hotel

When Argentine businessman Alan Faena envisioned a revolutionary hotel project here, he knew Philippe Starck was the only man for the job.

The Paris-based designer — who has created overcoats and desk lamps, motorcycles and restaurants — has crafted plenty of landmark hotels, including Los Angeles' Mondrian and Hong Kong's redesigned Peninsula.

But, as indicated by its name, the Faena Hotel + Universe is more than just a hotel. It's an urban village unto itself.

(Starck, in fact, calls it "the best creation I have ever done.")

The Faena complex, which plans to open about 40% of its rooms Monday, flanks the city's financial and government centers on the river's edge in Puerto Madero Este. But it also borders Buenos Aires' largest ecological reserve, Costanera Sur, giving the development a sense of breathing room.

The nucleus is El Porteño, a former grain warehouse and 100-year-old Buenos Aires landmark. Starck gutted its massive brick edifice and redesigned its interior in an opulent Empire style, marked by ceilings extending to exaggerated heights, gold embellishment, rich reds and dark wood.

About half of El Porteño's units are designated as residences, with 83 more as hotel rooms. Guests and permanent residents alike have access to the Universe's lengthy list of amenities, which include a cabaret, a farmers market, Turkish baths and an academy for courses such as wine tasting or cooking.

Also on the Faena menu are custom-designed "experiences." These ultra-exclusive field trips are crafted to allow guests to sample Argentine culture as an insider, through activities such as hunting local fowl or playing polo with the pros.

The Faena Hotel + Universe, at Martha Salotti 445 Dique 2 in Puerto Madero Este, plans to open the rest of its rooms gradually through its scheduled grand opening in February. Rooms will cost from $300 to $1,200 a night. For more information, call 011-54-11-4010-9000 or see .