Siteseeing: Shanghai

Rebecca Lo • Photography by Sui Sicong and courtesy of Aman, HBA, Studio Munge, and Wimberly Interiors • February 28, 2018

Photos: Recent Projects

When Shanghai opened its doors for Expo 2010, it had a lot to prove. The city has long been China’s poster child for beauty and romance, and its hospitality offerings at the time had to reflect that nostalgia while also accommodating the 73 million visitors—a record attendance—that descended upon the city during the six-month-long world’s fair. Today, Shanghai has no such need for self promotion. It is the undisputed regional leader for haute cuisine, niche restaurants for every taste and inclination, avant-garde fashion, and cutting-edge design in lifestyle-driven hotels, including early adapters such as the Puli Hotel and Spa from Kume Sekkei and Layan Design Group, and Neri & Hu Design and Research Office’s Waterhouse at South Bund.

Longtime resident Lyndon Neri, half of Neri & Hu alongside partner Rossana Hu, has noticed the recent activity: This past summer, the firm unveiled the revamped Jean-Georges at lifestyle destination Three on the Bund, a project Neri originally worked on under the late Michael Graves more than a decade ago. In addition, Neri & Hu is putting the finishing touches on the Sukhothai and EDITION hotels, both slated to open this year. In true Ian Schrager form, the Shanghai EDITION will feature 10 levels of public spaces, including a 27th-floor Japanese restaurant, three lounges, and two rooftop bars. “Given the crazy deadline and lofty design ideals, we had to be extremely creative,” says Neri, especially when crafting the bar, which is part of a strategy to introduce Shanghai to a heightened level of nightlife.

For the guestrooms, public spaces, and F&B outlets at Sukhothai Shanghai, the second for the brand since the iconic resort opened in Bangkok more than 25 years ago, Neri & Hu had to find a way to successfully translate a strong Bangkok city hotel to Shanghai. “It was an interesting challenge, albeit a daunting one, given the strong cultural underlining of this brand,” he notes. “We managed to bring a sense of oasis within an urban setting.”

Neri explains that Shanghai has always been a cosmopolitan city “that accepts and incorporates Western ideals in both its culture and attitude. It is not as rooted traditionally as many of the older Chinese cities. The domestic travel market is growing rapidly, and business within China is thriving, so you see a lot more hotels catering to local needs.”

Accor, which invested $190 million in leading Chinese hotelier Huazhu to co-develop the China market, is looking to tap into those domestic travelers’ tastes, including with the Sofitel Hongqiao, a 354-key Parisian-inspired property designed by HBA that opened in March. (The global firm has been busy in the city, responsible for the new Le Méridien Shanghai Minhang, with a renovation of the Grand Hyatt Jinmao Tower and a JW Marriott Marquis on the boards.) “There is strong demand in the city right now,” explains Shanghai-based Michel Molliet, COO for Accor Greater China. “While there is saturation in the city center, we are also seeing a lot of older hotels undergoing renovations.” An exploding middle class with high disposable income and Millennials on the lookout for the next best thing “want to discover their own backyard and will spend 35 percent of their income on travel,” he adds.

Other openings in 2017 included the long-awaited J Hotel, located on the 109th floor of the Shanghai Tower—the world’s second tallest building—and the 419-key St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, with interiors courtesy of G.A Design that incorporate extensive glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly and paintings by Shanghai artist Zhong Yin. June welcomed another property from G.A Design, the 374-room W Shanghai—an eclectic blend of old and new—as well as the five-room boutique hotel H12, which was incorporated into social members’ club and coworking space Paper, set in the former French Concession from Mazen Company.

On the ultra-luxury front, Milan and New York firm Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel and Partners crafted the recently opened 82-key Bulgari Hotel atop a 40-floor structure that also houses branded residences and boasts striking Italian flourishes and furnishings that marry a Chinese black and red color scheme. For Asia’s first Bellagio hotel (the maiden outpost outside Las Vegas), architecture firm WATG and its design studio Wimberly Interiors renovated a 1920s-era heritage mansion that sits next to a 10-story modern building meant to follow the direction of the Suzhou River. Inside, the design is seen through “the lens of couture fashion, with reinterpreted silhouettes, textures, and embellishments, paying homage to the glamour and opulence of the vibrant city,” especially in the 1930s, says Oz Ekviriyakul, associate vice president and creative director at Wimberly Interiors. The showstopper of the Art Deco-inspired interiors (with subtle nods to the brand’s Italian provenance) is the black and cream lobby, with its grand marble staircase set beneath a crystal chandelier. The recently opened hotel is also home to Lago by Julian Serrano, which, like its Vegas counterpart, takes cues from Italian Futurismo with its avant-garde interiors courtesy of Toronto’s Studio Munge (which is also designing parts of the upcoming Shangri-La Quintan Centre), most notably in its long entrance corridor lined with overarching blue glass that meets a red host stand and a floor-to-ceiling wine display.

Arguably the largest recent undertaking is the Amanyangyun. Set in the camphor forest on the outskirts of Shanghai, the 15-year labor of love by entrepreneur Ma Dadong and Aman, along with landscape design by Dan Pearson Studio and interiors from longtime Aman collaborator Kerry Hill Architects, involved saving thousands of trees and antique houses from the Ming and Qing Dynasty from Dadong’s home city of Fuzhou, about 470 miles away, all of which was being threatened by the building of a new reservoir. The 25-acre retreat features 26 ancient dwellings (created from the 50 disassembled homes), 24 new Ming Courtyard suites showing off Aman’s signature sophisticated wood-clad interiors, and one of the largest spas in the brand’s portfolio.

In the pipeline is Swire’s fourth in its House Collective on Nanjing Road West, Middle House, with interiors by Milan-based architect and designer Piero Lissoni. When it debuts early this year, it will offer 111 guestrooms and 102 serviced apartments woven with abundant terraces and gardens, as well as a sister outpost to chef Gray Kunz’s Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Shanghai’s first wellness hotel, Anandi Hotel & Spa, will boast a layout based on the traditional Tai Chi Eight Diagrams, with 333 guestrooms, suites, and villas offering reenergizing spaces that include air purification, negative ion earth beds, and energy flooring, and Rocco Forte will make its Asia debut with an assist from London firm Muza Lab as part of the Longhua International Aviation Service Centre, a new urban complex in Shanghai’s Xuhui Riverside area known as the West Bund.

Just as impressive are the city’s cultural offerings. For instance, London’s Heatherwick Studio and Foster + Partners teamed up to revitalize Shanghai’s waterfront with the 4.5 million-square-foot mixed-use Bund Finance Centre, known for a façade clad with stone and bronze details that give the eight buildings a jewel-like quality. The standout is the cultural center, which is wrapped in a moving veil made of 675 magnesium alloy tassels (a reference to traditional Chinese bridal headdresses) in various lengths that move along three tracks. According to Heatherwick, it’s a blending of China’s heritage with a new meaningful public place for “thousands to work and come together.”