by Jerry ElengicalDec 03, 2022
Xi'an, the capital of China's Shaanxi Province, was a major seat of power at different points during the country’s millennia-long history, counted among the 'Four Great Ancient Capitals' alongside Beijing, Nanjing, and Luoyang. Particularly noteworthy during its tenure as a capital for the Tang Dynasty, the city is home to a number of important cultural sites including Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army as well as the start of the ancient Silk Road which are both now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While conceptualising a new restaurant design in the city’s southeastern quarter, Chinese design practice HONG Designworks called upon the cultural significance of the city to formulate a scheme that fused imagery related to dynastic identities from Chinese architecture and history with contemporary sensibilities and a touch of luxury.
Chinese designer Dang Ming, who leads the firm, viewed this approach as a balanced way to marry contextual relevance and celebrate Xi’an’s legacy as a pivotal urban centre during the period of imperial rule in China while also firmly rooting the project in its own time. The project is itself situated near the Qujiang Royal Garden from the time of the Tang dynasty. However, the interior design does not solely ground itself in this theme, but rather, combines it with aesthetic features of Chinese art deco to craft spaces that ooze a sophisticated elegance. This idea is evident right from the get go at the reception which has been configured as a courtyard-like space with three entrances, screened by layers of wooden partitions featuring Chinese lattice patterns.
Imagery of landscapes as depicted in traditional Chinese watercolour and ink paintings dresses the walls of this space, fostering ties to the region’s natural environment. Textured eave finishes and brass outlines along the vermillion-toned façade embody the design's blending of classical aesthetics and minimalistic modernity, conveying the regal aura of the Tang dynasty. Wall murals of dragons as well as geometric lattice railings and Chinese calligraphy decorate the surfaces of this space.
A wood-finished staircase with strip lighting embedded into its railing acts as a break from this aesthetic, leading into the public area on the first floor. Here, a sculptural chandelier with an organic form in glazed red - a texture that is ubiquitous in Eastern design - steals the spotlight, as the focus of the entire space. Combined with green wall tiles and lattice windows, this arrangement puts its own spin on Chinese art deco with its abundance of intricate geometric motifs, highlighting the craftsmanship and attention to detail involved in realising this space.
Concerning the material palette, contrasts between the more elegant and delicate appearance of the wood screens against the roughness of the stone tiles and brass accents produces an effect that is both in tune with nature as well as the larger historical and cultural narrative it is attempting to portray. Warm colours take precedence in most sections, with red hues dominating in particular. This is supplemented by injections of green, lapis lazuli, and brass.
Hints of a more classical style are seen in the VIP room, which hosts sculptural lanterns in gridded brass that diverge from its more solid and weighty applications in other parts of the design. In fact, the lightness of the fixtures here, due to their latticed structures, is echoed in other elements such as woven partitions and blinds that conceal large glass windows, connecting the space to the gardens outside. External seating is made up of gauze and fabric with brass for structural implements. Spatial segregation here varies in opacity from the translucency of the woven screens to the clear glass and opaque wood at opposing ends of the spectrum, generating an air of mystery.
In its function as a hospitality design space, Heyue Hui Pavilion strives to "redefine tradition and transcend it" rather than purely rehashing it through surface level ornamentation. Skilfully melding references, innovation, and reinvention through a plethora of intricate details that toe the line between old and new, the restaurant design is a relevant example of a growing trend in Chinese architecture and design where the past is informing a distinct and contextually pertinent vision of the future.