Photo © Xia Zhi

When MAD architects was approached by the city of Huzhou, China, to design a landmark hotel, the Beijing-based firm aimed to create more than an icon. “I wanted to make the building feel like an art installation,” explains MAD founder Ma Yansong, who has collaborated with artist Olafur Eliasson. “It’s about the lights, it’s about the space.” Evocative of a ring, a moon, or a traditional Chinese bridge, the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, completed in 2012, looms nearly 400 feet above Lake Tai. The dramatic arch echoes the nearby mountains and, at night, creates a glowing, otherworldly reflection on the lake’s surface. The building forms a continuous loop but was constructed as two interconnected towers—one leg planted on land, the other anchored below the water’s surface—joined by an underwater passageway and supported by twin columns of lightweight, earthquake-resistant concrete. Protruding balcony railings produce a striated exterior that lends ambiguity to the 650,000-square-foot building’s scale, a quality that was important in MAD’s design. “I was thinking that instead of just making one big object, I could also bring an emptiness,” Ma says. “The building becomes like a frame so people can look at the sky and water beyond the building.”