by Zohra KhanSep 20, 2022
When Neri&Hu was commissioned to design a 20-room boutique hotel on a site located on the outskirts of Yangzhou, China, the Shanghai-based practice resorted to first tying the landscape with its disjointed built features before unifying the whole with an architectural schematic celebrated in China. Architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu built The Brick Wall – Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat around the courtyard house typology of vernacular Chinese architecture, seeking the latter’s distinctive geometricity, its tactile multi-layered journeys, and an overarching sense of community. Using wall and the courtyard as key elements of design that impart a sense of containedness and discovery to the program, the architecture results in an inward looking complex seated far from the eyes of the city.
The design brief called for the adaptive reuse of three old structures located on different corners of the site. Neri&Hu used a grid of walls and paths to weave these low-rise buildings, while expanding the builtscape to accommodate the needs of the hotel. The several small lakes on the site too are integrated in the resultant form, in addition to a few new pockets to create artificial water features.
Drawing from the traditional style of Chinese housing where narrow lanes, grid networks, covered walkways, and inner courtyards define living spaces, the design replicates these features in a setting that feels rather contemporary. A similar approach has previously been seen in projects such as The Junshan Cultural Center in outer Beijing where the studio created a donut-shaped office and arts space around a central courtyard; and The Relic Shelter public teahouse in Fuzhou which was designed as a Chinese artefact marked by a sunken courtyard, and meandering paths. What’s more interesting about this project is that instead of a central courtyard slotting living spaces around it, the architecture presents multiple courtyards framing both built and unbuilt areas. “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,” shares the design team.
At the entrance, a vast open space greets the visitors, and leads them to a narrow pathway a few steps down which journeys into the building’s interiors. The sudden change in the scale of the space renders a sense of surprise while evoking a feeling of entering a secret spot. The path, following a well-orchestrated route, opens onto different courtyards where guest rooms and other amenities like reception, library and restaurant are housed. Speaking of pedestrian circulation within the building, the design team explains, "Hotel guests traverse the site using the walled pathways to discover their rooms. Once within, there is a clear separation between the building and the walls, a layering of privacy and a sliver of landscape for guests to enjoy. Other courtyards are unoccupied, pockets of lush garden to offer relief from the sense of enclosure.”
Moving through the hotel while experiencing the change of levels, scales, and materiality, one encounters a mix of veiled and open spaces straddling openness and privacy. Landscape and recreational programmes interspersed around the guest rooms include a Bamboo Garden, a Water Garden, an amphitheatre, a library, tea garden, a flower garden, a restaurant, a theatre, and an event plaza. "Journeying along the walls, guests can also ascend through openings above to gain privileged vantage points that look out across the gridded landscape and beyond to the surrounding lakes,” adds the design team.
According to Neri&Hu, the new builtscape weaves together three existing buildings in its panorama comprising "the rising second floor of the largest courtyard building, a lakeside pavilion of four guestrooms, and a multifunctional building" born from a derelict warehouse which now houses a restaurant, a theatre, and an exhibition space.
The materiality of the project goes in alignment with its rustic nature and closeness to landscape. While the exteriors are kept bare using recycled grey brickwork, and exposed aggregate concrete surfaces, the interiors reveal contemporary living spaces donned in wood and steel. "With this project, Neri&Hu's ambition lies in utilising a strong landscape element—the wall and courtyard—to unify a complex site and program, while the rustic materiality and layered spaces seek to redefine tradition with a modern architectural language," concludes the design team.