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Experience the Houses: Rethinking the Design of Hotels with Kengo Kuma & Andre Fu

Swire Hotels’ “Experience the Houses” follows two travelers and their memorable stays at their flagship hotels in Asia and at the same time, demonstrates the group’s initiative in pioneering new approaches to the luxury hotel experience.

Both The Opposite House and The Upper House are portrayed in the “day-in-the-life” of a hotel guest, as they experience all the tranquility and luxury amenities that are provided with a stay at any of the two hotels. See the video below.

No longer does it suffice for travelers to visit a beautifully designed hotel that certainly pleases the eye, but fails to fully address everything a guest could need when they check in.

Aesthetically stunning design withstanding, Swire Hotels sought to reach new heights in the hotel industry by treating the experience as a craft, working closely with Kengo Kuma of Tokyo on the architectural and interior design of The Opposite House in Beijing, and local Hong Kong architect André Fu on their flagship there, The Upper House.

From conception to construction, the design direction was organic and sensitive to the relationship between the spaces themselves and the surrounding area and culture, allowing the final design decisions to derive from a collage of memories and emotions.

As to how their design ethic translated into the finished hotels, both locations share the travelers’ desire to simply get away, enveloping guests with a sense of calm, simplicity and hospitality.

It’s no surprise that Kengo’s design for The Opposite House opted to distance itself from the overt modernity of the city. From its grass-toned glass exterior to the simple pairings of white cloth and wood grain against stone walls and angular minimalist furniture in the suites, the focus is decidedly less on the features and more on the relaxing ambiance offered by traditional Asian interior design. The hotel’s spacious atrium and art house also help to inspire wonder with its extensive collection of modern art by 10 prominent Chinese artists from Beijing, Hong Kong, Australia and London.

Similarly, the small 117-room Upper House seeks to whisk guests away from the bustling surroundings of Hong Kong Island where the hotel is located to a warm but informal place of escape. Its darker and more neutral palette paired with warm lighting serve to heighten the intimacy of its generously-spaced interiors while treating guests to contemporary East-West blend of design styles Hong Kong is known for. In designing the hotel for his first collaboration with Swire Hotels, Fu sought to recreate the unique tranquility of a private residence. We had a chance to sit down with the designers of The Opposite House, Kengo Kuma and Andre Fu for The Upper House, to talk about the hospitality design and the concepts, and be sure to check the “Experience the Houses” video below.

Interview with Kengo Kuma, designer of The Opposite House

Can you introduce yourself and your role with Swire Hotels?

Hi, I’m Kengo Kuma and I’m based in Tokyo. We worked on the architectural and interior design of The Opposite House, Beijing for Swire Hotels.

What originally got you interested in architecture?

As I was growing up, I lived in a wooden house in Kanagawa, Japan that gave me much inspiration as a child to become an architect.

­What is your thought process and workflow for architecture?

I like being free from any preconceptions and work with our team of architects to generate and develop ideas.
How important are regional sensibilities when designing, for example designing a hotel for Hong Kong versus China, versus Europe?

It is very important to let the design emerge from the specifics of the region. We always initiate in-­depth research in culture, arts and crafts, natural resources and industries of the area and relate them to architectural design. China and Europe are big regions, each city has its own sensibilities we try to learn each time.

­Given that both The Upper House and The Opposite House are based extensively in the urban landscape, how do you incorporate a distinct calmness to relax guests as opposed to nature­-based build-outs?

We were much inspired by the quality of space in traditional Chinese courtyard houses. It can create a calm, peaceful feeling being protected and surrounded by the volume of rooms. Planning of The Opposite House relates to this concept in belief that it can achieve a sense of comfort.

“It is very important to let the design emerge from the specifics of the region.”

Kengo Kuma talks about regional sensibilities

Interview with Andre Fu, designer of The Upper House

Can you introduce yourself and your role with Swire Hotels? 

My name is Andre Fu and I’m an interiors architect. I collaborated with Swire Hotels with their flagship hotel, The Upper House in Hong Kong.

What originally got you interested in architecture?

I have always been interested in the lifestyle side of design, the way a space could translate, or provoke a sense of emotion or feeling. My training in architecture becomes a natural route as it has empowered me with an insight into the historical spectrum of architectural development, thus allowing me to better interpret spaces in the context of the world we are working in right now.

What is your thought process and workflow for architecture? 

Typically, I would create an in-depth dialogue with the client and understand their goal for the project. It is also critical for me to have multiple visits to the site to understand its context and overall proportions. Usually the design process evolves in a rather natural way — almost like a collage of memories from the past and a mixture of thoughts specific to the space — to form a holistic concept. I would then start to plan out the flow and hand-sketch the overall vision in mind.

How important are regional sensibilities when designing, for example designing a hotel for Hong Kong versus China, versus Europe? 

A sense of place is extremely important as it is the context of the space that will form the backdrop of my designs. I never believe in direct referral of local accents, yet it is usually the juxtaposition of the way a concept sits within its surroundings that normally promotes the most interesting story.

Given that both The Upper House and The Opposite House are based extensively in the urban landscape, how do you incorporate a distinct calmness to relax guests as opposed to nature-based build-outs?

At The Upper House, the overall layout is built on a sense of calm and the key focus is on providing guests with a comfortable environment. We have gone back to the basics with simple layouts and we have stripped away all unnecessary clutter. However, each and every detail within the guestrooms or the public spaces has been thoughtfully considered with a painstaking process of prototyping and development. The resulting effect is a place of visual balance, pure and serene.

“At the Upper House,
the overall sensitivity is built on a sense of calm and key focus on providing guests with
a comfortable environment.”

Andre Fu discusses his workflow and thought process

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