Well-Known Shanghai Architects Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri were tasked with coming up with a design solution for a 20-room boutique hotel amidst Yangzhou’s scenic Slender West Lake, occupying the entire western shore and their answer was: The Brick Wall. Their Architectural studio Neri & Hu had to rise to a design brief that called for adaptive reuse of several and to assign new functions to them as well as planning to accommodate new buildings that follow the architectural language of the context, to meet with the hotel’s capacity needs. The site, located in Eastern China, covers an area of 32000 square meters of buildings on the site dotted with small lakes and a bunch of already existing structures.
The unification of the scattered existing structures and to tie them down with the proposed designs of additional blocks required an architectural language to create harmony. Neri&Hu’s strategy was to combine materials usage carefully with the courtyard house typology of vernacular Chinese architecture. As with the traditional courtyard, the courtyard here gives hierarchy to the spaces, frames views of the sky and earth, encapsulates landscape into architecture, and creates an overlap between interior and exterior.
Horizontal accentuation is brought out into the design through gridded walls lining narrow interior passageways that call the guests to venture even deeper into the project through the long perspective achieved in its design. Light plays an important role in The Brick Wall’s careful usage of material palettes and textures, coupled with its linear passages and sometimes, on the contrary, an escape from the sense of enclosure caused by the walls. The walls separate the insides of the retreat by screening vision due to its height which even confines the roof lines below it giving the insides, a much-needed private space, blended with the subtle landscape.
The grid of walls that line the site, while separating the area into different spaces, each containing its private gardens also creates a sense of hierarchy of spaces and functions within the site that is a key aspect of Chinese vernacular architecture. This usage of Chinese ideologies, also including Chinese gardens and the regular layout of existing structures was key to binding the whole project to a single form and identity that unifies the building composed of various elements.
The contrasting functions of a wall and courtyard spaces are used in Neri & Hu’s design to unify a complex site and program along with a strong push for landscape elements. While sticking true to its Chinese traditional values, the overall design also defines it with rustic materiality and layered spaces.
Materials and Construction
How well the elegant natural grey colour of the reclaimed bricks that line that walls, and that of the pavements, blends in beautifully with the colours of the natural surroundings and the buildings around it echo the architects’ minimalistic and elegant approach towards the design of the hotel. The exterior of the hotel project uses only the reclaimed gray blocks, Exposed aggregate concrete fused with gray roof tiles that have also been reclaimed. The material palette is topped by the additional use of bamboo engineered wood and raw steel.
The interior spaces of the minimal setting carefully combine concrete and Terrazzo flooring with White Oak and Walnut. Some of the other signature features that were included in the project apart from the Warm brass lighting fixtures and the wooden built-ins were the walnut cladded private spaces, with terrazzo floors spiced up with clean line modern seating as furnishing elements.
Except for the block that towers above the rest, with a second floor that contains a library, a number of hotel rooms built around an inner courtyard, all of the other blocks are grounded to a single story in the construction of the hotel. The Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat also contains, for recreation, a bookshop, a theatre, and exhibition space in the renovated warehouse building. An annex is part of the design that is located on the opposite shore of the lake, connected by a pedestrian bridge, containing four rooms and an open space with a staircase and benches leading down to the water, that slightly stands out from the overall design scheme.
The sustainability of the design is resonated through its grey brick walls and pavings, both of which has been reclaimed and used in the hotel project The briefing received by the architects Neri & Hu, had clearly stated the intent to preserve several abandoned buildings, such as rural homes of farmers and fishermen present in the peri-urban area, that In a much larger scale, line the site, spread across a 160 m. The usage of passive ventilation systems and the humble usage of reclaimed materials in a project that is intended to enhance the luxurious feel of visitors is proof of its efforts to be ecologically and environmentally friendly.
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