Xian, China


“When we were given the project,” says Lyndon Neri of his Xian Westin Museum Hotel, “it was clear that the local planning bureau had a very strong say on what this part of the city should be.” That is, it should reflect the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), when Xian was the capital of China. Though best known for its Terra-Cotta Warriors, Xian boasts Tang-era landmarks such as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is northeast of the Westin and sets the tone for the surrounding Qujiang New District. Recent projects in the area, like the Tang Paradise theme park and the Nikken Sekkei-planned Great Tang All Day Mall, say “Tang” in name only, while serving up standard commercial construction.

Neri and his Shanghai-based firm, Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, proposed something different. “We wanted a new breakthrough to the Tang Dynasty,” says Neri, “otherwise it becomes just a replication of what was there.” For him, tradition is “more than what you see in elevation; it's what you experience”—not just facial but spatial. Neri&Hu accepted the proportion, roof profile, massing, and height limit that the planning bureau imposed, but wrapped the Westin in a contemporary aesthetic. This was not an easy sell. The architects initially failed to convince the authorities that their design would fit into Qujiang. On their third attempt, with what Neri describes as their most radical submission, they succeeded. By that time, the planners finally “understood the essence of the Xian spirit,” he says. “Abstraction does not distract from or disrespect the old, but rather augments it.”

In their final design, the architects referenced the Xian spirit typified by the massive, ancient wall that encircles the city's historic center. The wall's current iteration surrounds an area of 5.4 square miles and measures 49 to 59 feet wide at its base. Neri&Hu echoed its monumentality in the Westin by designing a thick building envelope. The hotel's 4-to-6-foot-wide walls are slight by comparison to their predecessor, but deep-set windows emphasize their heft. The surfaces surrounding the recessed windows are bright red and are angled to frame views of the historic pagoda (or, for windows on other elevations, for dramatic effect).

The exterior's heaviness is tempered by a wooden screen and canopy at the main entrance facing the pagoda. Inside, a double-height lobby with walls, columns, and ceilings covered in wood greets visitors as they arrive. A second entrance to the east employs a similar screen and is enlivened by a cascading stairway that descends two levels below grade to the Xian Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts, which presents ancient wall murals encased in glass and black powder-coated-metal frames. Neri&Hu persuaded the project's developer to build the stairs down from the Great Tang All Day Mall so the museum can attract the public, not just hotel guests. The descent to the museum recalls the subterranean resting place of the Terra-Cotta Warriors located 19 miles from Xian–one of the main reasons for the city's many hotels.

In plan, the Westin does not mimic the enormous rectangle traced by Xian's city wall. Rather, the 329-room hotel brings together what appear to be four small buildings, each of which wraps around a square atrium. One of these open spaces serves as a café and lounge with a view to the pagoda. Red and orange shades and a dark floor and furnishings dim the light from the street, while dozens of chandeliers provide warm spotlights. Neri&Hu designed all the interiors of the Westin except the guest rooms.

The three other atria–tall, wood-screened spaces–serve as Zenlike internal gardens. The architects arranged them in a ring around a large rectangular courtyard that brings light down to the restaurants, gym, and spa below and includes a stair slicing through a boxy enclosure to the basement. The courtyard's bright-white finish contrasts with the earth tones used elsewhere and helps guests navigate the 861,000-square-foot project.

The complex extends to the west of the hotel with a wing that includes a sunken garden, function spaces, and shops. On the top floor, a Chinese restaurant (to be completed in July) will be crowned with a surprising gabled roof with dormer windows. For this, Neri says, he considered, “What would a Tang designer do today? The celebration of the roof was very important in the Tang Dynasty.”

Neri makes this statement with tongue in cheek, but it does suggest the extent to which Tang references have been abstracted in his firm's design. Historical models, though, might in fact have less to do with the hotel's spatial sense than with its quiet ambience. Its smooth surfaces, rational plan, and neutral colors evoke the simplicity of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda itself. Nestled near a water-fountain show claiming to be Asia's largest, the Qin Han Tang shopping plaza with its 32,000-square-foot LED ceiling display, and all the noise that comes with a new district in a big Chinese city, the Westin Xian provides a calm counterpoint.


Owner: YunGao Hotel (Group) Development Co,.Ltd.

Neri&Hu Design and Research Office
88 Yuqing Road
Shanghai, China 200030
Tel: +86 21 6082 3777
Fax: +86 21 6082 3778
Email: info@nhdro.com
Website: www.neriandhu.com

Design Team:
Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu (principals-in-charge)
Mariarosa Doardo (associate-in-charge)
Briar Hickling (associate)
Joy Qiao (senior project manager)
Willow Zhang
Eva Wieland
Qi xiaofeng
Amy Hu
Candice-Lee Browne
Kevin Azanger
Alena Fabila

Graphic team:
Christine Neri (associate-in-charge)
Vivi Lau

Product team:
Brian Lo (senior associate-in-charge)
Yun Zhao
Xiaowen Chen
Jean-Philippe Bonzon
Alexandre Zuntini

Pedro Pegenaute:credit the photos with: ' Pegenaute
website: www.pedropegenaute.es


861,000 square feet



Completion Date:

January 2012



Architectural Materials, Products, Graphics and FF&E Suppliers, Manufacturers, etc.

Architectural 'materials:
Black granite
Timber louvers (Built in metal)
Solid timber screens
Coloured patterned glass
Black/ grey glass
Begona Stones

Architectural ' Flooring:
Terra cotta clay slabs
Terrazzo floor panels
Black granite
Pebble stones

Architectural ' roof:
Terra cotta clay tiles

Decorative Lighting, Specified
Custom lights on exterior screen

Interiors ' Furniture, Specified:
ALL DAY DINING- dining tables, dining chairs, low coffee tables and pendant lights (customized design by Neri&Hu)
match lights on base (neri&hu)

Meeting tables, sofas, lounge chair, table lamps, floor lamps (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Client spec tables and chairs, hanging chandeliers (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Table lamps, pendant lights, low tables and rugs (customized design by Neri&Hu)
solo lounge chair (Neri&hu)

emperor lights (Moooi)
pendant lights (Bocci)
lounge chair high table, metal side table, table lamps, dining chairs, dining tables, pos cabinets, display tables, wall scones,
floor lamps, hanging pendants and bar stools (customized design by Neri&Hu)
pig table (Moooi)
horse lamp (Moooi)
Prince AHA white and green (Kartell)
Bourgie by Philippe Stark lamp (Kartell)
La boheme by Philippe Stark (Kartell)
bubble club sofa (Kartell)
Striped Potoncina by Rowan and Erwan Bouroullec (Magis)
Steelwood by Rowan and Erwan Bouroullec (Magis)
remaining customized by Neri&Hu

Lounge chair, sofa lounge, lounge chair, low coffee table, metal side table, high table, table lamps (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Pendants, chair and table lamp (customized design by Neri&Hu)

solo dining chair (neri&hu)
solo bar stool (neri&hu)
pendants (Bocci)
dining tables, console tables, metal side tables, custom fixed lights (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Westminster Horizontal Teak Lounger
benches, opium bench seats, ming style lounge seats, bar stools, side tables in 5 shapes, metal side table, console tables, floor
lamps, henging pendants, table lamps (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Interiors ' Accessories:

Japanese restaurant:
michele de lucchi vases (produzione privata)
remaining all customized by Neri&Hu

All other accessories customized by Neri&Hu
All areas: mirrors, human size candle sticks (customized design by Neri&Hu)

Interiors ' Carpet:
All customized by Neri&Hu