July 3, 2014

Ahead of the Curve: Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort

Located two hours from Shanghai, the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort is braced against the southern fringes of Taihu, China’s third largest freshwater lake. For anyone passing through the area, it’s something of a spectacle. But then again, the designers of this new monument-cum-luxury hotel never aspired for subtlety. Since opening its doors in late 2012, a host of colorful nicknames—Horseshoe Hotel and Doughnut Hotel among them—have stuck in response to the building’s eye-catching form. Recently, the launch of the hotel’s third phase, a wedding island as well as a sprawling spa complex centered on the hot springs, has revived interest in the development.

Designed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong of the Beijing studio MAD, the 27-level structure makes a visual statement with two curved towers that span 300 feet over the lake and meet at the top to form an arch. Considered risqué for a mainstream hotel brand, Ma’s edgy design has predictably turned more than a few heads, living up to its intended role as Huzhou’s grandest landmark to date. “In the beginning, they were a little doubtful about whether it would even be possible to realize the building,” says Ma of his clients. “Now they are very proud of the resort and are showcasing it to the whole world.”

Becoming one of the city’s most visited sites is a real feat considering there’s hardly a deficit of cultural attractions in and around the northern Zhejiang province where Huzhou is situated. Many of these hinge on locally hewn treasures such as handcrafted calligraphy brushes, premium tea and silk. And then there are the well-preserved Tang Dynasty-era dwellings which have also been known to leave a distinct impression on out-of-towners lured by the mystique of China’s ancient water towns.

Fraught with symbolic elements, Ma’s design acknowledges this period of traditional Chinese architecture by alluding to an arch bridge—a dramatically bowed construction built to accommodate the silk-laden transport boats passing through local canals. The building also nods to its surrounding context by drawing on the ambience of the water-bound landscape. “Taihu offers a fabulous blend of water and light, which greatly influenced my design,” reveals Ma.

The building’s sleek format belies its complex construction. To achieve the look of a “simple ring,” Ma opted for a skin composed of three-dimensional hyperbolic glass panes, shunning the tinted variety in favor of a ultra-white counterpart. The resulting structure is at once ephemeral and robust, offering up reflections of the lake in the day and enlivened by coordinating LED lights at night.

Beyond the façade, the hotel interiors proved equally as trying. Owing to the building’s unusual dimensions, each of the 282 rooms within the two towers required its own architectural rendering, meaning that no two rooms are alike. Interiors firm Hirsch Bedner Associates upped the opulence factor, decking out both the public areas and guestrooms in jade and precious stones no less. Upon entering the hotel, one’s transition into the space is marked by the imposing presence of a 28-ton jade sculpture imported from Iran as well as a wide-spanning light work fashioned with more than 20,000 Swarovski crystals.

Paired with a lavish use of jade—a natural material that the Chinese traditionally associate with wellbeing—a prevailing feeling of warmth is promoted by the flaxen color scheme. Throughout the premises, light again becomes the main focus, resonating with Ma’s luminous façade and turning the design into what the architect calls an “artwork of light,” inside and out.

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