Client: Swire Properties
Collaboration was essential to the design of the hospitality spaces at The Opposite House, a boutique hotel in Beijing’s Sanlitun area. It started with the project’s designers, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, who co-founded the Shanghai-based Neri&Hu Design and Research Office (NHDRO) in 2004. It continued with NHDRO’s relationship with Kengo Kuma, the hotel’s architect. According to Neri, the respect he and Hu have for Kuma’s architecture made working with him easy. “We explore many similar things: the notion of layering, tectonics and materiality, and spatial experience as opposed to decoration.”
Another significant collaboration at The Opposite House was that between designers and client. Swire Properties had initially commissioned three different firms for the basement-level hospitality spaces, but apparently wasn’t pleased with the work. Pressed for time, Swire gave all of the projects to NHDRO. The program included Sureño Mediterranean Restaurant, Bei Asian Restaurant, Punk Bar, five private dining rooms, the multipurpose “Green Room,” an open-air sunken garden, a public corridor, and toilets.
Swire asked NHDRO to create five distinctively different areas for the various programs. The designers chose the five Chinese elements—wood, fire, earth, metal, and water—as coordinating themes, which they represented spatially rather than literally. Wood is suggested by the forest-like entry to Bei, water by the oasis of Sureño, fire by the hearth in the garden. “If we made them decorative elements, they would have become one-liners,” says Neri. The rooms’ materials—from aqueous, veined marble at Sureño to perforated metal screens at Punk Bar to a bronze threshold at the earthen entrance—emphasize this theme.
The designers’ previous hospitality experience helped them complete all this work within an abbreviated schedule of 14 months. NHDRO brought in fabricators and contractors with whom it had collaborated and sourced much of the furniture from another Neri and Hu venture, the Design Republic design store. Anthony Ross, area general manager of Swire Hotels, notes that his company chose NHDRO based in part on its restaurant experience.
The speed of the work does not seem to have affected its performance. “Sureño won restaurant of the year in 2009 and has been among Beijing’s best since then,” says Ross. “The sophisticated, elegant design and great use of natural light are frequently cited as strong contributing factors in its success.”
Neri acknowledges that design does add to a hospitality project’s reception, but admits it is only a supporting player. “You can be arrogant about it and say, ‘Because of my design the place is full.’ But if the programming, the service, and the food aren’t there, it doesn’t matter what the design is.” Neri credits Swire with filling in the other pieces. “They are a group of people who are not just dedicated, but passionate about what they do. Clients like that help architects like us.”