It’s midway through autumn. The trees are absolutely naked with some exposing birds’ nests between their sprawling branches. As the temperature drastically drops into the single digit, I quicken my pace to keep warm.
“Oh, that’s a cute pink fox with a selfie stick!” I exclaim delightedly as I eventually arrive at the entrance of Vue Hotel Beijing, a property that draws richly from the culture and heritage of its neighbourhood but at the same time, transcends it with a contemporary and whimsical twist.
I make my way in, all the while surveying my surrounds for any design flaws through my hypercritical eyes. Perhaps I’m just looking for something ‘clever’ to discuss with Colin Seah, chief designer and the man behind the holistic strategy, branding and creative creation of the latest member of Design Hotels in Beijing, China.
“Beijing has always been known as the grounded and somewhat solemn capital of heritage and culture. With Vue in Beijing, we hope to present an alternative take on what Beijing can offer; one that’s more light hearted, imaginative and with a keen interest in tradition but isn’t afraid to transcend it in a contemporary way,” shares Seah, whom I eventually locate waiting for me in the charming lobby.
Opening its doors this month, Vue is nestled in the Hutong district of Houhai, which means ‘back lakes’. The hotel compound perches on the edge of the picturesque Houhai Lake and neighbours a verdant public park. This area of Beijing contains some of the most extensive old Hutong neighbourhoods and ironically hosts one of the best nightlife in Beijing.
The Vue Hotel brand is pioneered by the Orange Hotels Group and created by internationally acclaimed Singapore-based design studio, Ministry of Design, led by Seah. It exemplifies a new wave of locally-rooted boutique hospitality experience, which is currently a global cultural phenomenon that’s taking precedence in China.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The word vue means ‘to see’ in French and each Vue property presents a new way of seeing its neighbourhood, namely through means of gentrification and a new take on redefining hospitality.
Elaborates the 45-year-old Seah: “The transformation was radical. Rooms were enlarged and new features like the cafes, installation art and landscape were introduced into the property. But the spirit of the Hutong and the essence of traditional Chinese architecture were retained and modernised. We take the nature of the site and the surrounding as our main source of inspiration.”
In the case of Vue, its unique narrative becomes evident when the wildlife from the surrounding lake area is ‘magically’ brought to life and anthropomorphically transformed to become permanent guests of the property.
These mascots can be seen wheeling around luggage, consulting a map like a guest would, and even kissing! Foxes, rabbits and deer are translated to become more human-like, much in the same way that animals in cartoons often adopt human personas.
“The pop colours of the sculptures are meant to underscore the whimsicality of the Vue brand and I really enjoyed creating moments of the unexpected,” confides Seah who’s also the designer behind the Macalister Mansion in Penang.
NEW WAY TO CONSERVE
The hotel compound comprises a series of buildings with a variety of architectural styles and approaches. Although designed primarily in the Chinese vernacular, the different buildings span a range of ornamentation from highly decorative roof eaves, characterful gargoyles, sculptured balconies and latticed window frames to pared-back jack roofs and plain brick wall finishes. The design rationale is to essentially unify this diverse collection through colour and landscaping.
Undertaken as a major and unique adaptive-reuse exercise, the hotel comprises a series of artistically transformed quasi-historic buildings from the 1950s and 1960s. “Vue is a rare example of adaptive reuse,” continues Seah, adding: “Typically in China, really old traditional heritage spaces are torn down to make way for something completely new and foreign to the site. Sometimes they’re restored and preserved as frozen artifacts in time. It’s very binary.”
The original buildings themselves are not older than 60 years, which means they’re ‘young’ for the neighbourhood. However, they’ve appropriated interesting traditional details from a much older period.
“From the get go, we wanted to utilise these ‘pseudo heritage’ details as a means of cataloguing Chinese architectural heritage but at the same time not wanting to pass them off as genuinely old relics. We achieved this by treating the buildings as darker masses whilst highlighting key details in sublime gold to summon them out,” shares Seah.
These featured elements in gold patina shimmer against the buildings that are conceptually draped over with a dark charcoal-grey coat of paint. These details gradually bring into focus the distinction between the historical versus the contemporary — a subtle juxtaposition that emphasises the rich tension that tends to arise from any adaptive reuse design.
Conceptually, the design harnesses all the “left-over” spaces in between each building in order to tie the compound into a single holistic experience. These in-between spaces are treated graphically with an “ice-ray” lattice pattern inspired by traditional Chinese screens.
Feeling more comfortable with the hotel’s landscape by now, I stroll around the hard-scaped floors to find passageways rising up from the walls to become private balconies and garden enclosures. This three-dimensional treatment creates a new archetype to the existing vernacular facades.
INTIMATE IMAGINATIVE INTERIORS
When conceptualising the essence of its hotel rooms, the brand decided to celebrate the innovative spatial design but paired with a level of creature comfort.
High on the agenda was the aspiration to balance a truly contemporary design approach with locally-inspired culture and imagery. The result? Rooms are playfully surprising yet familiar. Spaces are unexpectedly divided by the use of colours, tones and materials, while installation art in every room continue the hotel’s overarching narrative.
And once again, Seah continues to adopt an unapologetic stance when it comes to the furniture arrangement. The mixture of bright pink and electric yellow, which can be seen in the exteriors, adds a sense of drama to the guest rooms.
Clean-cut lines are applied across the room through the division of contrasting colours and lighting.
Stagey bath spaces complement the charming sleeping spaces. Beyond the standard rooms, suites and garden rooms extend the guest experience through the generous living and dining spaces, oversized bathrooms and alfresco lounge areas.
By nightfall, the entire property lights up in resplendent fashion. As I flash out my smartphone to take a wefie (unashamedly) with the pink fox, I find myself enthralled by the idiosyncrasies of the stunningly curated hotel.
Smiling, Seah concludes: “We took huge risks with the design proposals, which turned out to be captivating and inspirational for the guests. I think it also furthers the conversation on the perception of heritage and whether it’s more of a continuum versus a mere moment in time.”